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Extremities (Robert M. Young, 1986)


The rape-revenge thriller is boiled down to its basics in Robert M. Young’s Extremities. Clearly based on a stage play, this fundamentally misguided movie tries to treat the trashy material of ‘70s exploitation movies as fodder for serious feminist thought and fails miserably. For those looking for a cogent message about the terror caused by rape, it will likely feel offensive. For those willing to simply take some knowingly twisted pleasure in the game of cat and mouse between Marjorie, a single woman from Los Angeles (Golden Globe-nominee Farrah Fawcett), and her would-be rapist (James Russo), the film will likely be more acceptable.


The slim premise here requires little explanation. After Marjorie fends off an anonymous attempted rape, her rapist uses her lost wallet to stalk her at her home. Once her roommates leave, he moves in for the prize. The film seems designed to allow Fawcett, in a more dramatic role than she was known for, to show off her acting chops. She has ample opportunity to demonstrate her shame, tears, and wrath. Still, there seems to be little psychology at work here beyond the actress’ determination. The other performers are adequate at best, and the material develops less than one would hope. The opening car-ride, for example, in which Fawcett is held at knifepoint while she is told to drive to a secluded area, is far too drawn out. Such a scene should be suspenseful, but under the direction of Young, it mostly feels like a desperate attempt to pad out a movie that is only 89 minutes long.


Extremities is clearly conflicted. It at once wants to be a feminist tract against the exploitation of women and a vessel that showcases that exploitation. The casual sexism and unfeeling bureaucracy that Marjorie feels at the police station is meant to serve as justification for the retribution that she later enacts, but the moral compass spins so wildly in the film’s baffling third act that any point behind all of the mutual sadism is lost. While the movie generates some real tension between the rapist and intended victim at times, one can’t help but wonder what is truly motivating the conflict. What seems to be the ultimate message here, that we are all capable of acting like animals, is too trite and too simple to justify the terror that the film asks us to endure. The end result is a movie that feels as sleazy as the man it is struggling to denounce.



Jeremy Heilman