Catch the Fair One satisfies with its sleek style, gritty violence, and tense genre thrills, even if it does come off as almost overwhelmingly bleak.
Kaylee’s sister has been missing for two years. One night, while preparing for a boxing tournament, her sister left to walk home and disappeared. Catch the Fair One opens with the first glimmer of hope Kaylee (Kali Reis, a real life boxing champion who also co-wrote the screenplay) has seen in years. After paying off a local pimp, she’s shown the picture of a young girl who might just be her sister. Thus begins Kaylee’s life-threatening journey to save her sister, leading her down violent, twisted and bleak pathways.
Josef Wladyka directs his film with a sleek sense of style, imbuing each image with cold grays and blues and using the snowy setting to great effect. Catch the Fair One is his second feature film, following up his well-regarded debut Dirty Hands. In his newest work, he proves himself to be adept at crafting a tense, stripped-down thriller that’s unafraid to confront grisly violence and linger on deeply unsettling moments. In fact, it’s Wladyka’s use of stretching out time that makes for some of the film’s best scenes, trapping the viewer in these nearly unbearably tense situations that seem unescapable.
At times the film seems formulaic in its narrative trajectory, following the course of other thrillers wherein a down-in-the-dumps protagonist seeks to kill the bad guys and save a young girl. Catch the Fair One does little to subvert genre expectations, but it nevertheless is compelling and even shocking. Reis’ lead performance is a huge part of why the film works. She delivers a determined and resolute performance that makes you really care for what happens to her, and effectively conveys the buried emotions hiding under her gruff exterior. It’s also exciting to watch a thriller that stars a Native American woman.
The film industry has a long history of racism and exclusion, and arguably no group has been more excluded from the industry than Native American artists. The film doesn’t aim to be a piece of representation, which may be a missed opportunity. Kaylee’s identity is barely mentioned and not an explicitly major factor in the story, but if every middle aged white dude (Liam Neeson, Bob Odenkirk) can lead a taut, bare-bones thriller, why not a Native woman?
While a majority of the film is gritty, intense, and engaging, it also goes into some incredibly bleak places. The film maybe revels in this bleakness too much, but the emotions undeniably hit. The thematic darkness and increasing sense of hopelessness will not be for everyone, but there’s plenty of solid craft to bolster its sense of fatalism. With its assured mix of icy visuals, a great lead performance, and a stripped-down approach to narrative, Catch the Fair One succeeds as a classic thriller, overcoming familiar story beats and its own overwhelming dourness.