BIFF21 REVIEW: Catch the Fair One [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 85 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (USA)
    Studio: IFC Films
    Director(s): Josef Kubota Wladyka
    Writer(s): Josef Kubota Wladyka / Josef Kubota Wladyka & Kali Reis (story)

You wish it was me on that wall.

Kaylee (Kali Reis) hasn’t fought much since her sister Weeta disappeared two years ago. She’s waiting tables at a diner and sleeping in a shelter now, estranged from her mother (Kimberly Guerrero‘s Jaya) and really only in touch with her trainer/friend Brick (Shelly Vincent). The latter is with her at the beginning, taping her hands up to ready for a boxing match. We don’t see it, though, and don’t know who it is against. This is intentional because it may not have been a public fight at all, but an exercise gearing up for the unknown. Because Kaylee needs to do something before even thinking about restarting her career. She must embed herself with the sex trafficking ring that kidnapped Weeta and bring her home at all costs.

Born from a story by Reis and writer/director Josef Kubota Wladyka, Catch the Fair One takes us through the ways in which Kaylee must prepare. Sleeping with a razorblade tucked into her cheek. Practicing Greco-Roman wrestling in case she needs to escape a sticky situation. And boxing a man three times her size to get used to the punishment she may have to endure depending on who she must contend with on the other side of her “recruitment.” Initially it’s a cocksure handler (Michael Drayer‘s Danny) acting as though he has any power in this business. Then it’s “the guy he knows who likes Native girls” (Daniel Henshall‘s Bobby). And eventually we meet the real man in charge: Willie (Kevin Dunn), holed up in his mansion with apathy.

Wladyka has some surprises in-store as we can never quite know just how bad things will get. Should we trust the private detective who got Kaylee the information about who probably took Weeta? Can we believe that Danny will somehow send her to the right person once she’s in, drugged, and sent away? How can we even believe Willie knows who Weeta is after two years and countless other girls stolen off the streets and sent north? The film becomes less about a rescue mission as a result and more about lifting a weight off Kaylee’s shoulders. Because she harbors guilt. She believes it’s her fault Weeta is gone. And whether this mission ends with bringing her back, taking Willie down, or dying herself, it’s worth the risk.

This is crucial because Kaylee is relentless in her pursuit through injury, uncertainty, and chaos. Fighting back to protect herself is one thing, torturing and killing those in her way of answers is another. That’s what this is going to take, though. She will have to use that razorblade to evade her own demise and steel herself to the reality that the men who have done these heinous crimes will need to experience the same pain if she ever hopes to procure what she needs from them. Will the women caught in their web (Tiffany Chu as Bobby’s wife and Lisa Emery as Willie’s) be too indoctrinated in the lifestyle their husbands’ crimes afford them to help? Or will the abuse they’ve endured endear them to Kaylee’s plight?

The answers to those questions come fast and always without fanfare. This is a trait of Catch the Fair One overall. We’re dropped in right as Kaylee is ramping up to go and everything is full steam ahead from there besides a couple scenes of exposition (meeting with Jaya to see the strain of their relationship; understanding the plight of an impoverished, recovering addict, POC woman stealing leftovers from work to survive; and a flashback to the tragic night of Weeta’s disappearance). She’s passed from one man to the next as the stakes grow higher and her resolve stronger. It’s a lean 85-minute runtime that doesn’t have room for excess or second thoughts. Sometimes Kaylee goes too far and must improvise, but the goal never changes.

There’s not really anything else to say that wouldn’t spoil the ride. The production value is very high, the violence is blunt and never glorifying, and the acting is top-notch throughout right down to Chu saying more with her eyes when bound and gagged than most of her counterparts do with their voices. Dunn is sufficiently menacing in his brief screen time and Henshall loathsome in his domineering smugness. But this is Reis’ show. She’s in practically every frame with the perfect mix of determination and desperation to see this thing through. The odds of a happy ending are slim, but her Kaylee knows that her life cannot turn itself around until she tries. It’s now or never. Vengeance or oblivion or both. No other fight matters more.

courtesy of the Buffalo International Film Festival

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