Riot Girls (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

I wasn’t too interested in the premise of “Riot Girls” upon first glance, but it inevitably won me over with its execution and I came to appreciate (and kind of love) how fun and unique it was. The whole idea of high school cliques becoming the tribes of the post-apocalypse is rife for satire, and Jovanka Vuckovic has a great time with her concept. “Riot Girls” is both a teen drama comedy, and a fun bit of post apocalyptic fodder that you could easily digest right down to the last bite. I loved the whole punk rock, pulp comic book aesthetic, and the way it embraces its fantasy trappings like “The Warriors” did long ago.

A mix of “Degrassi,” “The Warriors,” “Lord of the Flies,” and “Class of 1999,” Jovanka Vuckovic’s post apocalyptic monster is set after the end of civilization. Most of the adults have died from a deadly plague that rots them from the inside out, and now all that’s left are groups of teenagers. They’ve all broken up in to their own tribes, the “East Side” and the “West Side.” Now they do nothing but fight for control of the remaining resources. When the leader of the “East Side” is kidnapped during a botched theft by the “West Side,” it’s now up to his sister Nat, her girlfriend Scratch, and new member Sony to rescue him. Under the thumb of the “West Side,” the clan of fascist wealthy jocks in Letterman Jackets, Jack looks for a way out, as the leader Jeremy threatens to murder him.

If I have a complaint is that Jovanka Vuckovic’s film is a bit tonally confused, but that thankfully isn’t a big mark against the film. Primarily the film is played like an apocalyptic fantasy where just about everyone are split in to their own fractions and engage in very violent warfare with one another. The heart and soul of “Riot Girls” is Madison Iseman as Nat, and Paloma Kwiatkowski as Scratch, both of whom garner a ton of chemistry as a couple at odds with each other during their rescue mission. They come to terms with a lot of conflicts and hidden feelings about their romance, and have to overcome a ton of unusual obstacles along the way. Kwiatkowski is especially great as the mohawked girlfriend to Nat who is tough as nails, but held back by impulsive decisions.

There’s also Munro Chambers who is great yet again as the villain of the piece. He harbors his own secret all the while never being afraid to make examples of his troops when they fail him time and time again. Chambers is such a versatile actor and he feels right at home here. Writer Katherine Collins introduces us to a unique and bizarre apocalyptic world where characters are forced to engage in sadistic acts of violence to survive, all the while enjoying a good punk rock jam every so often. Director Vuckovic packs the film with some excellent music, including 45 Grave’s “It’s Party Time.” As someone with a weak spot for fodder like “The Domestics” and “Class of 1999,” I was hooked on “Riot Girls” from minute one.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019.