Unchained (USA, 2021)

A young woman is determined to fight her way out of an illegal underground ring in this indie fight flick featuring WWE superstar Frankie Monet (Taya Valkyrie) and legend Eric Roberts.

Since being a young girl, Aella has always attempted to go by her father’s words. However, as an adult, she has struggled after completing her service in the Army. Hard to find a job, she goes from interview to interview only to be met with resistance. When she is given an opportunity to try out for a role in a martial arts action film, she auditions and impresses the casting director. When she leaves, she is knocked out.

Upon awakening, she finds herself in the middle of nowhere. There, she is forced to enter an illegal fight ring run by Georgia, the self-proclaimed warden of the territory. Aella decides she must find a way out. Every day, she is watched under the eye of Regina while she hones her skills. As Aella proves herself to be an able-bodied fighter, she conspires with some of her fellow fighters in a plan to escape, especially when she learns who is the one responsible for the whole fight ring. Now determined, Aella will have to fight her way to victory and freedom.

It seems like after all these years, the action film is once again revolving around female-centric action. Which is actually a good thing because after the Girls with Guns era in Hong Kong and some of the American B-movies pretty much faded, it seemed like we wouldn’t have as many female-centric action films again. However, it’s time that the new generation has had their share. They include the likes of Atomic Blonde, Anna, Hanna, Becky, and a lot of singularly-titled names of the main characters. Then when it came to martial arts, there was Lady Bloodfight and the upcoming Never Back Down: Revolt. In between these two is this film, which is a run by the numbers fight flick but spearheaded with some twists in the story.

The film’s star is Mair Mulroney, a staple of YouTuber Dhar Mann’s video who goes against type as Aella, a woman who seeks freedom and redemption when she is forced to fight in an illegal ring. Writer/director Raphaello meshes the story of Aella with quotes from her father, played by Eric Roberts. It is his sayings that motivate her to keep the fight going no matter what it takes. Mulroney proves herself to be a viable actress, perhaps the best of the cast as some of them seem a bit too over the top of monotonous. Perhaps it’s because of their character nature.

When it comes to over the top, no one does it better than Larry L. Andrews’ Warden Georgia, who is in charge of procuring the fighters and subjects them to beatings or even killings when they disobey him. He tends to think he runs the show, but there is a mastermind who is revealed later in the film, and it does prove to be a bit of a shock. Taya Valkyrie, currently known as Frankie Monet in WWE and is the wife of WWE superstar and sometimes action hero John Hennigan, makes the most of her role as Regina, the fighters’ “trainer” who seems to only follow orders but seems to show sympathy towards the fighters when needed.

Gene Freeman is in charge of the fight choreography and for the most part, it does have a bit of close ups and jump cuts. Mulroney’s opening fight seems to use a lot of slow motion that didn’t need to be overabundant. As the film progresses, the fights are pretty standard for an American 90’s B-movie. It’s completely bad as the cast of fighters, from Mulroney to Maricris Lapaix’s Mel (who becomes Aella’s most trusted ally) to Svetlana Constantine’s scared but still ready Grace, you can tell the fighters are not all trained fighters, but thanks to Freeman, he made the most of their skills and for that, it’s worth the effort.

Unchained is ultimately a throwback to 90’s female-centric martial arts action with some intricate twists in terms of certain characters and the motivation of our lead doing what she needs to do best: fight for her freedom. Not a great film, but not completely bad either.

WFG RATING: C+

Leomark Studios presents an ArtStyle Pictures production. Director: Raphaello. Producers: Tim Chizmar and Raphaello. Writers: Raphaello, John Bryan, and Ilia Constantine. Cinematography: Raphaello. Editing: Raphaello.

Cast: Mair Mulroney, Taya Valkyrie, Eric Roberts, Sloan Roberts, Larry L. Andrews, Maricris Lapaix, Svetlana Constantine, Kasarlina Wang, Jessica Catalano, Marina Zoreva, Linda Michaels.

The film will hit On Demand platforms on July 2 from Leomark Studios.

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