Four years is a long time to be trapped with people who don't respect you. People who want to silence your voice. People who want to use you, and don’t care about your health and well-being. People who endanger your family. Salma Hayek’s titular character from 2014’s high action siege movie EVERLY knows about these people, and she’s determined that four years are all they are going to get from her.
We come into the worst day of Everly’s (Salma Hayek) thoroughly fucked up life, already in progress. Her only shot of escaping four years of slavery under the Yakuza boss Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) has gone tits up in spectacular fashion. Her only option seems to be to lay down and die. Instead, she blows away a whole room full of gangster scumbags and plunges headlong into a new plan: kill everyone who stands between her and the door. More important than her own freedom, she must make sure her mother (Laura Cepeda) and daughter Maisey (Aisha Ayamah) get the money she has squirreled away in order to buy them another life. Blocked at every turn, Everly must deal with wave after wave of killer prostitutes, corrupt cops, guard dogs, and vicious torturers who are all determined to keep the boss’ plaything in her place. Everly has had enough and she is willing to bring the entire building down if it means saving her daughter from the hell she has endured.
Selma Hayek is phenomenal as Everly. She's a badass, but in the same way John McClane was in DIE HARD. She doesn’t want to be in that situation, she just doesn’t have a choice. She is terrified in the beginning, stumbling and not knowing exactly what to do. The first time she picks up a submachine gun, she empties the clip into the ceiling without hitting anything. The only think keeping her going is her unwavering determination.
Like John McClane, she takes an ever increasing amount of punishment throughout the movie. A bullet wound through the side (and later the shoulder), cuts, gashes, contusions, acid burns, she has to push through it all. Luckily for her, she also follows McClane’s rule that gunshots only hurt when you can see them bleeding. Slap some duct tape on and she’s doing fine.
Everly may start out shaky, but once she gets her confidence back, she is a serious piece of work. Nothing is revealed about what Everly was like before the abduction. There is no indication she had any special training, but she's good with a gun and not squeamish about having to kill a guy (or twenty), so she wasn’t an average soccer mom. She knows how to leverage her advantages. She takes out a squad of goons in full tactical gear by being faster, smarter, and even more ruthless.
It should be noted that Selma Hayek was 48 years old when she made this movie. Time has been very, very good to her. She is amazingly fit, able to roll with some grueling fight sequences and lug around a huge machine gun believably. She had a stunt double for the extreme stuff like diving over counters and getting blown through doorways, but Hayek herself is slogging her way through the majority of the punishment. And even under all the bruises and blood, she is still fiercely beautiful.
Incidentally, the role of Everly was originally slated for Kate Hudson. I cannot even imagine what the hell that movie would look like. There aren’t that many Yakuza rom-coms out there.
Structurally, EVERLY is a very odd movie. The bulk of its running time is spent in only one location, the (initially) luxurious apartment that has been Everly’s cell for the last four years. There are eventually quick trips to the hall way and to an adjacent apartment, and we get to see other parts of the building through security footage, but otherwise this could be an extremely violent and explosive stage play.
The subject matter is incredibly dark, and it does not shy away from indicating exactly what these Yakuza bastards think of women. When Taiko threatens to bring in Everly’s little girl to fill her vacancy at the hotel, we know the sick son of a bitch isn’t bluffing.
For as grim and gritty as the tone can be, the movie veers into some very crazy territory. Everly’s first trial after defying Taiko is to fend off a group of bombastic Yakuza prostitutes all fighting for the brand new bounty placed on her head. They all live and work together on the same level of the apartment building, so it has an additional awkward quality, like being attacked by the people in your office. They seem to have more freedom (and a lot more weapons) than Everly, though. A couple of them are straight up murderous, but several are sympathetic to her plight. The money is just too good to pass up. Except that they really should have.
Director Joe Lynch has his own style, but he owes a lot to Tarantino, especially with the injection of morbid humor into a tense situation. One example is when Everly realizes Maisey is face to face with Bonsai, a vicious and much disliked guard dog. Bonsai’s smirking handler keeps his hand on the dog’s collar as Everly slowly reaches down to pick up her child, letting him loose just as she grabs her. Everly races back into the apartment and is a second away from being torn apart when she tosses a grenade into the hall. The dog bolts out to fetch it, with the handler running after yelling, “Bonsai, that’s not a ball!” Boom.
The action is quick, frantic, but well shot and easy to track. It can also be satisfyingly over the top. One scene has Everly tossing a grenade into an elevator full of gangsters just as the doors close. There is the sound of an explosion and a huge jet of blood shoots from between the seam of the doors. It’s like a miniature version of the blood elevator from THE SHINNING.
There are long pauses in between the action sequences when Everly gets to catch her breath. She even has the chance to clean up the apartment and take a shower before her mom and Maisey show up. I found this initially unnatural and distracting, but there is an explanation near the end that makes sense. More importantly, it gives the movie time to develop some true pathos between characters (the ones that last more than 30 seconds, at least).
One of them is a victim of Everly’s first shooting spree. Referred to callously as Dead Man by Everly, Akie Kotabe spends all of his screen time slowly bleeding to death on a couch. Everly eases his suffering out of basic human compassion, but she doesn’t let him off the hook just because he is a soft spoken, gentle nerd in a suit. Even though he didn’t participate in the abuse the other Yakuza inflicted on her (thankfully off screen), he did not stop them either. In time though, she realizes he was in the same boat as her, forced by the Yakuza do to things that revolted him. He is just another sad, isolated victim, though more by choice than Everly. In the last moments of his life, he has finally made a real connection with a person, the woman who shot him. His best moment is when he distracts Everly’s daughter from finding a stack of bodies by singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with her. It isn’t enough to wipe the slate of his life clean, but it is the best he can do.
Everly has some very touching moments with her daughter, who was one year old the last time she saw her. They are both awkward and unsure of each other. Aisha Ayamah is a real cutie and plays Maisey with such shy innocence, it’s almost an emotional cheat. Those scenes would be touching to anyone with an empathic bone in their body. The real gut wrenching scenes come with Everly’s mother. Not realizing what she has had to endure, her mom gives Everly hell for abandoning her daughter. Everly has a more than valid excuse, but just sits there in the bathroom and lets her mother unload, overcome by four years of unreasonable but ever present guilt. Once Everly explains what happened, corroborated by a bathtub full of dead gangsters, the two mothers finally have a true reconciliation. It’s a beautiful and powerful moment.
Good feelings only last a second, because then we come to the most batshit part of the movie, Togo Igawa as The Sadist. He arrives wheeling in a half-naked man in a slender cage of hooked bars, accompanied by four freaks dressed as Kabuki demons. Keep in mind, this is the guy the Yakuza call when they need things to get really hardcore, so we know he is bad news. You never want to meet a cordial, well-dressed man carrying a medical bag filled with delicate bottles of various acids and poisons. The entire sequence gets more and more surreal and frightening, especially once he gets Everly in the cage. The power quickly shifts back and forth several times before the Sadist gets his fitting (and extremely messy) end.
The final showdown with Taiko is an all-out battle of wills; supreme arrogance and cruelty against unbreakable ferocity. It doesn’t matter that Taiko has the upper hand. As he slides his razor sharp sword across her skin, waxing on about the divine brutality of Yakuza love, she’s coming up with different ways to tell him to go fuck himself. She will never again be his slave. No matter what he does to her, she’s already beaten him. And she still has a few more tricks up her sleeve.
Metaphorically. She’s wearing a tank top.
Everly’s situation is considerably more extreme than anything we are likely to face during our four year cohabitation with a cartoonish villain. I also admit that some of us have had to deal with blatant disrespect and hostility for far more than four years (an entire lifetime, for instance, or many lifetimes). But focusing on these upcoming four years in particular, there is a lot to take away from EVERLY. We won’t (or shouldn’t) be fighting with bullets or grenades or swords, but we can fight with our words and actions and solidarity. We can make it very clear right from the beginning that four years is all they are going to get from us. Hopefully we don’t have to do it in ten inch high heels, though. They look painful.