Are we supposed to be learning something from all this? Over the course of his six features (he’s already threatening a seventh), Eli Roth has proven consistently that he has a pretty loosey-goosey understanding of human nature, let alone basic cinematic grammar. And he’s a smart guy! Listen to him talk about film, and it’s clear that he knows his stuff. So why has that translated into the most heartless, thoughtless and haphazardly racist filmography of the 21st century? It’s a mystery. But his Death Wish remake goes a long way toward figuring a few of these things out.
The extended cameo Greek chorus of Mancow and Sway are first on the list. Mancow’s Alex Jones-lite theatrics combined with Sway’s constant and ludicrous swatting away of any accusations of racist motives behind the Grim Reaper killings committed by Bruce Willis’ surgeon-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey are Roth’s way of communicating that “everyone’s talking about this Grim Reaper guy!” But are they? The film itself goes out of its way to indicate that Willis is pretty comfortable just walking around wherever in Chicago in full Reaper attire. Not only that, but there is an American Psycho-style preoccupation with the anonymity of white men in this world that allows them to get away with all manner of atrocities with little danger of being caught or even noticed.
Roth has clearly seen and loves Michael Winner’s 1974 Death Wish. But as with most modern remakes we didn’t need, that love comes through as simply describing the events of the original film from memory and calling that a script, fumbling any deeper thematic elements while being too busy making sure he gets the details right on exactly how much brain would explode from a human head if it were to be, say, crushed under the chassis of a classic car from about six feet up (though, admittedly, that’s a pretty cool effect).
There’s also that whole pesky business of women and people of color being given close to zero agency throughout the film, they being sexually assaulted, murdered, shot to death in broad daylight with no real consequences, etc. Death Wish even goes so far as to suggest there was a previous draft where this wasn’t the case, setting up several elements that are left dangling and forgotten about in favor of giving Willis more opportunities to continue his reign of terror. That’s not even mentioning the fact that, for all practical purposes, no one is out there looking for the person committing all these murders. It’s like a cops-and-robbers movie written by a racist third-grader who didn’t understand the original Death Wish.
It’s worth noting that this film was pushed back from its original release date partly because it was set to open soon after the Las Vegas massacre in October. That it’s now opening in the wake of yet another mass shooting is a fact that, while certainly not lost on Roth, probably won’t have any meaningful impact. Most movies these days are released in the wakes of mass shootings, right? Why should Eli Roth care about any of that?