The Protector Has Good Ideas But Messy Execution
Fantasia 2022: The Protector Review
The Protector is the new film from writer-director Lenin A. Sivam. No, it’s not the 2005 Tony Jaa vehicle. Nor is it the Netflix show that’s run for 4 seasons at the time of this writing. This is another The Protector. Why so many films and shows feel the need to baptise their projects with similar if not identical titles, only their creators know. Be that as it may, this Protector has mysticism, magic, a peppering of South Asian flavour, an up-and-coming actress, and tosses them into the blender that is the harsh Canadian winter.
Evelyn (Chelsea Clark) is a 21-year-old woman serving her parole from juvenile detention. Audiences learn from the film’s opening scene that she came to the defence of her terrorized mother ten years ago and killed her father in the process. Now she must take medication, stay out of trouble, and stay in the town of Wilfred (Small Town, Canada). Her scheduled visits to Dr. Flora (Rebecca Jenkins) only exasperate her feelings about the entire situation, as does her numbing job at a local diner. One day, a mysterious book appears at her doorstep. Sharing the same title as the film, its literature relates the story of a god that shields people and communities from harm. Coincidentally, as Chief Gordon (Andrew Gilles) explains, Wilfred hasn’t witnessed a crime in a decade. When a strange man (Pras Lingam) adorning magnificent dreadlocks hauntingly appears out of nowhere in Evelyn’s dreams and real life, the protagonist opens her own investigation. What is the town’s past? How does it relate to the book she received? Most importantly, why is the dark figure stalking her?
The Protector is led by a very talented, game female lead. Chelsea Clark embodies the role of young woman who looks lost in life, unsure of what happens next, wrestling with the trauma of her past. Evelyn does not suffer fools lightly, which leads to some of the film’s unexpectedly amusing moments. The last decade has moulded her personality into someone who is distant, always standoffish. Showing affection is as foreign to her instincts as can be, so the rare moments when it happens are surprising and are earned. When all else fails, as is the case during a date night that goes sour, she knows how to land a good wallop to the head. Truthfully, Chelsea Clark is great in the role and is the primary reason to seek out the film.
Alas, she is one of the only reasons to watch The Protector. Criticizing A. Sivam’s picture for being small would be ludicrous. Welcome to 99% of Canadian cinema. It doesn’t feel right to criticize it for the type of ideas it brings to the table either. Young woman stuck in a sleepy town due to probation as she tries to find herself. Fine. A mysterious book with South Asian mystic overtones that may explain the town’s odd nature. Sounds decent. An ominous figure haunting the protagonist in her dreams and during the day. That’s been done a million times but doesn’t mean a new spin can’t be put on it. If one just lists off the basic ideas that percolate in the script, one would be led to believe that they have a really nice movie on their hands.
The biggest issue is that none of them come together in a wholly satisfying way. By film’s conclusion there are so many unanswered questions about why this or that happened. A critique that makes its way into articles and podcasts more and more often is when a film doesn’t adhere to the “rules” its own universe set up. There are a few occasions during The Protector when it feels like the filmmakers are simply making stuff up as they go along. If the god that tracks Evelyn is protective rather than offensive, why does it appear in a region when a person commits a selfless act? Why not a selfish act? For that matter, why is it behaving like most nefarious movie monsters instead of a benevolent force? The film sort of explains this with the classic trick of showing something out of context at the start, only to reveal the true nature of the scene closer to the climax. But that’s intentionally tricking the audience with information the protagonist is oblivious to at time. The protagonist and the audience need to be tricked together.
Therein lies a critical failure. It’s as if both the audience and the heroine are being fooled into believing something, but not always for the same reasons or with the same information. The Protector seems as if it’s playing two games at the same time. Unfortunately, it ends up performing under par at both.
Those questions are but the tip of the iceberg with regards to plot details that may leave viewers wracking their minds. The article could ask more, but that risks revealing too many story elements. To be perfectly fair, there are hopefully people who will watch The Protector and enjoy every second of it. For them, it’s best to stop with the queries. Suffice to say that there are far, far too many beats that transpire seemingly because if they didn’t there would be no movie. Or it would be a ten-minute short film. Probably a good one at that. The basis of a good story is there.
The Protector never lives up to expectations, which is a shame. As a Canadian-based publication, it’s very tempting to cheer for home grown talent. One wants films and tv shows with the maple leaf stamp to be good. But honesty is the best policy, and The Protector is a bit of a mess. There is talent and moxie to be mined from Chelsea Clark however. She’s leading lady material, no doubt about it. As for the rest of the film, maybe the book should have shared a better script.
The 26th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will run from July 14 – August 3, 2022.