Relentless is a 2018 thriller about an American mother who searches for her daughter who was kidnapped by human traffickers in Central America.
Rightfully so, stories of human trafficking have gained a lot of traction in movies lately, several retelling some truly horrific and inspiring tales of some of the worst and best of what we are capable of. With Lance Tracy‘s latest Relentless, a true-to-life story spun with plenty of kick-assery, we get another in the lot, a well-made actioner that might not be as socially or politically driven as some others that attempt to raise awareness, but for what it intends, mostly works.
Holly Drew (Lauren Shaw) runs Drew’s Brews, a successful coffee shop in Oregon with her brother Rob (Peter Holden), getting beans from family coffee farms in El Salvador, a place she spent as a child with her father, and now visits yearly. Her daughter Ally (Sydney Sweeney) is a sixteen-year-old with plenty of ambitions of her own, now spending a summer on these farms as part of a pre-college course, learning about the environment and efficiency for better production. However, the region is highly unstable, run by a gang called “Los Discípulos” (The Disciples), who, one night, raid the farm and kidnap Ally and her friend Laura (Krissia Cedillos), looking to sell them off into sexual slavery. With authorities hand’s tied, Holly makes it a personal mission to take the girls back, at any cost.
Played mostly by the book, Holly’s journey is one we’ve certainly seen in various forms before, the timeless story of a parent up against all odds to get their child back. Relentless keeps close to the formula but is still a well-made film with big ambitions, even if its budget and limited production values weaken some of its impact. It follows the driven Holly into the wilds of the cause along with an ex-military type named Fern (David Castro), a carbon copy of Antonio Banderas who reluctantly is drawn into the fight, coming upon the usual suspects in such a movie.
It puts most of its efforts into Holly and Fern, both having been shaped by El Salvadorian’s violent past, now coming together to head into even darker shadows. Things naturally movie fast and Tracy doesn’t waste time in the subtleties, though at least is patient enough to give them some depth. Castro is well cast and believable, lending some ruggedness to the character, while Shaw, who certainly has the look and feel for the part, doesn’t always have the presence the role demands. Still, she’s lean and mean, evolving well into the narrow path a movie like this expects.
Still, where the film succeeds most is when it cuts to Ally’s story, one that is not easy to watch. This is, of course, harrowing as she is forced into a brothel, led by a sadistic mother and crew who use death as a very real threat to stay in line. These are hard images to watch and Sweeney does good work, she having been down this road before, playing a kidnapped girl sold into trafficking in 2015’s Stolen from Suburbia.
The issue is with some of Tracy’s directorial choices, the film’s tone shifting from intense drama to manufactured action accompanied by an incessant, looping score that works overtime to make the latter more energizing than it really is. However, there’s a lot here that works, even if it might have done better without all the simplified action and put more emphasis on Ally. Taking the subject seriously, with Tracy and the filmmakers clearly committed to treating this without kid gloves, it’s a solid effort that should inspire some conversation.
Movie description: Relentless is a 2018 thriller about an American mother who searches for her daughter who was kidnapped by human traffickers in Central America.
Director(s): Lance Tracy
Actor(s): Sydney Sweeney, Elpidia Carrillo, Courtenay Taylor