Directed by Akinola Hassan/ Reviewed by Prarthana Mitra
Allowing a glimpse into the gritty finesse life, Reyna is a daring attempt at contemporising and subverting grindhouse, a genre Quentin Tarantino is popularly known to have revived for the millennial audience. For those unfamiliar with it, some qualities set grindhouse films apart, low-budget video quality, graphic violence, burlesque narratives and ultra-sexuality being among them. Some have even called them “masterclasses in blue collar nihilism.”
Like a neo-noir crime caper, Reyna on the other hand, tells a very human story we are all familiar with, even though we may not immediately relate or respond to the culture it is rooted in. The short film, based somewhere in the urban American jungle, is a story of comeuppance that refrains from reserving any moral judgement for anyone. Somebody rightly said, there are no winners nor survivors in a true grindhouse film. In that regard, Reyna is closer to the genre. It is simply about circumstances captured in the moment they spin out of human control.
Cheekily subtitled “A Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy by Akinola Hassan,” Reyna packs some extremely powerful performances and quite the punch in terms of action. In his own words, Hassan seeks to craft new narratives that push culture forward. So it is not surprising that he reaches into the cinematic tropes of 70’s grindhouse, mapping a modern day scenario and an all-black cast onto it, in order to portray the trials of his titular character.
The basic premise is simple – Reyna is eager to leave her grimy life behind and begin again with a clean slate. She is advised by her best friend and partner-in-crime Monique (played by Tiana Melvina Woods) to take a business meeting with an influential man – as a recourse to step away from the finesse life once and for all. But things begin to go haywire as soon as her reputation, which precedes her, enters the picture.
Filmed on location for the most part, Reyna offers a close look at the seedy urban landscape by night. Over the course of the film, Hassan establishes Reyna as a forcefield who is seemingly in control. But nothing goes as it should, or at least, how Reyna expects it to. An excellent supporting cast comprising Daron Peaks as Shake, Earl Wilkerson as Yohimbe Mensah, Matth as Johnny Boy, and Lloyd Matthews as Blis, rounds off the discussion table where the crux of the drama takes place. A tense argument among the negotiators soon escalates, closing the film in a cloud of uncertainty.
Slipping into the shoes of a finesse artist, Sherae who plays the eponymous Reyna does so with immense pluck, allowing the viewer to connect with her on a survivalist level. By the end, you can almost feel the metallic taste in her mouth that remains long after the film is over. Perhaps, that is how you measure a true grindhouse movie. At the same time, a genre which has historically depicted women as victims finds a survivor in Reyna, who retains her agency and life till the very end.
The end, however, leaves a lot of room for further developments that Hassan couldn’t or didn’t want to get to in 24 minutes. The film would certainly have created a greater emotional impact had it portrayed Reyna’s origin story. Perhaps, we will see that in a sequel. One can only wish it a more hopeful and stronger follow-up like The Life of Pablo.