Beginning with a bloody homage to a deleted sequence from Gareth Huw Evans’ The Raid 2 (UPDATE: in a Twitter conversation, The Mo Brothers confirmed this was merely similar, not an homage), Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel’s Headshot rips the screen apart with unyielding violence. Considering the story, it’s entirely appropriate, as we go beyond the world of mob enforcement and into something a little closer to home, which makes Headshot’s conceits ooze from the darker, seamier side of the human psyche.
Social mores don’t exist in this Tjahjanto-scripted microcosm; the extent of the moral depravity some of these characters display is stunning on a sociopathic and psychotic level. We’re entering areas of the mind corrupted by the utterly evil, which is where we find Ishmael (Iko Uwais) after receiving a bullet in the head. He wakes up in the hospital with medical student Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who’s been watching over him during his two-month coma, having named him after the main character of the book she’s currently reading (Moby-Dick, just in case you were wondering).
So begins what The Bourne Identity might have been with the directors of the Jason Statham-starring Crank at the helm. A comatose man suffering from bullet wounds wakes up with no memory of who he is or what got him to the hospital, and the only friend of his gets dragged into a situation way above her head. His would-be killers are looking for him and will stop at nothing to get him back in their clutches.
Headshot is rooted in violence and blood, a perfect description of how Ishmael got to be where he is. Tjahjanto’s screenplay tries to make the audience decipher an unfolding mystery along with the amnesiac Ishmael, attempting to keep us in the dark about a shadowy, enigmatic character named Lee (Sunny Pang). But the mystery is picked apart all too soon by jarring, gauzy flashbacks and an offhand line given by a throwaway character, resulting in a film where the only thing we have to look forward to is the many different battles Ishmael must endure.
The Raid 2 alumni Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, and Very Tri Yulisman are reunited, but don’t think for a second Headshot’s fight scenes are going to be anything like The Raid 2’s near-balletic pencak silat prose. Where The Raid 2 showed technical prowess and well-trained characters facing off with each other, Headshot throws training and discipline away in favor of a more street-brawl, learned-the-hard-way feel. Prepare yourself for blood by the fountainfuls and excessive, repeated blows resulting in skin perforations of the most gruesome kind.
This fighting style, along with the rest of the subject matter, highlights Headshot’s nature-vs.-nurture conflict. On one hand, we see the best of societal optimism in the hopeful Ailin, a woman with promise heading into a difficult field, who has the best intentions. Her opposite is not Ishmael, but Lee, who – as the head of a small army of misfit killers – has basically brainwashed his fold into knowing nothing but dispatching opponents with sadistic cruelty. And once someone breaks free of Lee and his gang, is it possible for them to live a normal life?
Headshot is an uncomfortable movie to watch, no doubt, and fans of slickly-choreographed martial arts films might not find what they’re looking for. What they’ll find is an exciting and thrilling fight for survival bearing its own ferocious and brutal style. Its videogame-like boss-battle structure makes for captivating viewing; however, there are treasures in its quiet, human moments as well, which serves as a nice balance to the gore and fists flying.