An all-woman four-piece rock band is playing a raucous gig in a biker bar when a big guy invades their performance space and starts groping the lead singer Amy (Michelle Argyris). True to their stage name the Ms. 45s (from Abel Ferrara’s notorious 1981 rape-revenge film), this quartet – including Amy’s sister Emma (Emily Alatalo) and couple Cassy (Kiriana Stanton) and Jill (Chelsea Muirhead) – enacts a vicious revenge on the would-be rapist, hitting back hard and then taking on a riot of male assailants in the vicious stage fight that ensues. “A show’s not a show without a little bit of blood,” Amy says afterwards – while admirer Sam (Jason Rouse) has spotted the group’s potential, commenting, “I got a feeling you’ll be filling arenas soon.”
Sam is not wrong. For this opening act of Andrew Thomas Hunt’s Spare Parts, written by David Murdoch and Svet Rouskov, is a prelude to the four women’s unwilling involvement in another kind of show at another kind of arena. For after being abducted and surgically altered, they will find themselves forced to fight battles to the death using weapons attached to where their severed hands once were. Yet while the film’s genre may now have shifted to dystopian action, these bloody fights are not really so very different from that opening scene, as the four must again work together to come out on top against (mostly male) attackers, while Amy and Emma’s sibling rivalry continues to simmer underneath. Presiding over the games is Sam’s power-hungry father the Emperor (Julian Richings), who uses religious mumbo-jumbo and gladiatorial spectacle to divert and pacify his cult-like audience (who offer a mirror to any viewers of this film’s ultraviolent entertainments).
Thrown together from the spare parts of Rollerball (1975), Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Gladiator (2000), Planet Terror (2007), The Machine Girl (2008), The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009), Raze (2013) and The Furies (2019), Hunt’s film quickly establishes its base camp on Planet B, while using its excessive tropes as a way of exploring and exposing the trap of patriarchy. For in their desperation to survive, to fight back effectively and to exact their vengeance, these oppressed women must first learn to work within the system. This leads to all manner of contradictions, as it becomes unclear whether their rise in the games represents a bid to escape, or to bring everything crashing down, or whether perhaps the best that any of them can really hope or even want to do is displace those at the top and take the power for themselves.
For in the arena of ‘the Gridiron’, a Thunderdome-like scrapyard ruled over by one Trumpian charlatan or another, nothing ever really changes, all the fighters are mere pawns in an endless power play, and there is always someone else just as bad waiting to usurp control. It is an uncomfortable picture of who, and where, we all are – and the more grand guignol that the film puts on display for its baying, brainwashed masses, the more we crave to see it, rather than to seek some kind of revolution that might bring the whole cruel charade to an end. Like Emma’s axe prosthetic, modified to shoot rivets, this film has us nailed – and it is all too easy for the viewer, along with Emma and the gladiatorial trainer Driller (Ryan Allen), to become complicit in a hierarchical structure that ought instead to be overturned. Here patriarchy really is a bitch, and revenge is just another bid for ascendancy – which makes Spare Parts, for all its gleeful splatter, deeply political.
Summary: Andrew Thomas Hunt’s Spare Parts deconstructs the very girl power that it asserts in an arena where only patriarchy never dies.