Fresh off of its North American premiere at Screamfest, we had the opportunity to speak with star Michael Lombardi and sibling co-writers Darren and Jeff Allen Geare about the ultra-violent revenge thriller The Retaliators.
The Retaliators had its world premiere at FrightFest in September, and we gave it a highly positive review. The film tells the story of an upstanding and highly respected pastor who is forced to make an extremely challenging decision after he is presented with the opportunity to take revenge upon the ruthless criminal who murdered his daughter.
The film was primarily directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr. and Bridget Smith, and we learned in our interview that Lombardi also directed several scenes himself, after COVID-related travel restrictions prevented the original directors from returning for the final portion of the shoot. Although it doesn’t yet have a confirmed theatrical release date, we can expect to hear news of distribution plans soon as the film continues its festival run.
Dread Central: Thanks for speaking with us.
Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare:Thank you for having us. We were privileged and honored when we received the news that The Retaliators would have its North American premiere at Screamfest, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The Screamfest advisory board is no joke, considering John Carpenter, Eli Roth, and many notable others are on that board. We’re beyond thrilled to be accepted into some of the best genre festivals in the world. It means a tremendous amount to us.
DC: So, Michael, you play a pastor in the film. Was this the first time you’ve played a religious figure?
Michael Lombardi: Yes, it certainly was. I tried to find the great qualities and build a past around the character, to ask, “Why did he become a pastor?” It’s important to find the truth of the person because we’re all human beings. Rather than just saying, “Hey, he’s a good guy,” I asked what drove him to be a pastor. What was his background like? What led him to be a man of the cloth? I think you start there with some homework, to put yourself into this character rather than just think about the result.
I have a big scene where I’m holding a sermon and speaking to my church, and the Geare brothers so skillfully wrote the sermon, so that made it very easy. It’s all about the writing. But I actually attended a few sermons of modern day pastors to get a little idea of how these guys communicate to their parish, and there’s often music involved. It’s even longer than we were able to put in the film. Still, as I said, it’s all in the writing. And the writing was so good that the character clearly defined himself for me. So, it wasn’t difficult for me as an actor. You just do your normal homework, then put your two feet on the ground and let it roll.
DC: Was it a real church you filmed in?
Lombardi: Yes, it was. Principal photography for The Retaliators started about 20 minutes north of Atlantic City, which was where that church was located. We did end up struggling through COVID and many challenges, and also shooting. As I said, with all these incredible guest cameos and artists in the film, we ended up going to several states throughout the country, but that particular church was located in New Jersey.
DC: Darren and Jeff, how did you both come up with the idea for The Retaliators?
Jeff Allen Geare: It’s very much our baby and Michael’s baby. The roots of the film are actually personal in nature. We’re brothers, of course, and we have a younger sister. Years ago, when she was a teenager, she was walking home from a friend’s house late at night, and something straight out of a horror movie happened: She was attacked, tackled down a 20-foot ravine, and she was raped. It was a vicious attack. By all accounts, she should not have survived. But miraculously, she fought with every ounce of will that she had and literally escaped up the ravine, ran into traffic, and was luckily rescued. Believe it or not, it took 14 years to capture this guy. He was a serial rapist, and they caught him 14 years later. So, then she had to go through a trial. Our family went through a trial that went on for years. And so it was at the time of the trial, where the idea was talking to me. It’s hard because my dad was there.
Darren Geare: Every day of the trial, I would sit there and say, “Gosh, I can’t imagine how excruciating going through this must be.” First, for her as my sister, and also for my dad… I thought, “My God, what would it be like to be him?” This sparked this idea of, “What if there was this underground service that was provided to family members of loved ones that were victims of heinous crimes? What if this service provided you five minutes alone with the perpetrator of the crime?”
Then, once that idea was formed, we started playing with the blurred lines of morality that come with that. And then Bishop, Michael’s character, was created from going, “OK, well, if that service did exist, who is the last person in the world who would ever take advantage of that service?” So, that became this pacifistic pastor, and that’s how it all started. And the title, The Retaliators… It just came sort of from the movie title gods. It landed in the brain right away.
DC: The line from the film that stuck out the most to me is, “Only complicit men take secrets to the grave.” It’s said by Marc Menchaca’s character, Jed. That line is consistent with the theme you wanted to explore, of how Bishop wouldn’t take advantage of being in a position to take revenge.
Darren and Jeff Allen Geare: Yeah, that was the fun part that we were very committed to throughout the entire writing process. We’re so happy that Michael really understood the part of Bishop, too. We did not want, in any way, to tell the audience, “Well, this is the right thing to do.” We didn’t want to say, “If you were to be given those five minutes, you should never take them,” or, “If you weren’t given those five minutes, you should take them.”
We really love the idea that we’re following Bishop and then we meet another character who turns out to be a sort of mirror image of Bishop and sort of becomes a bit of an antihero. Like Bishop, he is a good man, but he made different choices. And he took those choices as far to the extreme as you possibly could. It was a lot of fun watching a character like Bishop and playing with how far we could take him.
What would you do if you were in that position? It’s easy to say, “Well, the right thing to do is to not get involved.” But then when you put yourself in these horrific situations, like the characters in the movie, you might think differently. Our whole sort of vision was, instead of the movie having a message, we wanted to have the movie ultimately be entertaining, and then let the audience argue it out. Our fantasy was for this to be the kind of movie you watch, then have a drink and have a meal and really think about, discuss, and argue about it. That’s the fun challenge that we sought out.
Marc Menchaca as Jed in The Retaliators
DC: I understand the pandemic had an impact on the production?
Darren and Jeff Allen Geare: COVID hit in the middle of our shoot, which made continuing the film very tricky. We were shut down multiple times, had multiple travel issues, and ended up shooting on both coasts of the U.S. We ended up bringing in Samuel Gonzales Jr. for the second half of the directing, after Bridget couldn’t come back. Again, we were so blessed, because the two directors brought their own styles and fittingly handled the two different tones that are in the movie. Because The Retaliators was written to have a crime-drama/thriller tone in the first half, and then things turn and get very extreme in the climax.
There were so many challenges that ended up being major green lights for the film and that was one of them. The different things they bought in tone ended up being very fitting, and then again we must give credit to Michael, who ended up directing some scenes, again because of the crazy situation with COVID. This was when testing was hard to come by and there were so many travel restrictions and it was just crazy. So Michael ended up directing multiple scenes, and honestly. They were some of the best scenes in the film, Michael directed them, he played a huge role in getting this movie made. From reading the script to getting at finance to leading every day on set. So nobody knew the story better and we have such a phenomenal DP, Joseph Hennigan. The scenes Michael directed were perfect, and we ended up being so lucky.
I just wanted to say real quick, we always think of you, Michael, as the real caretaker of the story. After the original directors couldn’t come back to shoot those, we think you did a great job directing the remaining scenes.
Michael Lombardi in The Retaliators
Lombardi: I can elaborate on this too. Basically, what happened was that we started principal photography in New Jersey, and then we ended up having to go to L.A. because Tommy Lee and the Five Finger Death Punch guys were all there. And because of travel restrictions and everything, Bridget wasn’t able to come down. So, we brought on Sam. And Sam is so visceral and stylish and he brought so much style to the project. We knew that these two would be a great combo from the beginning. We shot a lot of the third act in Connecticut. And then a lot of the interiors, like the bar scenes, were shot in Vegas, where Bridgette was unable to be. And then of course, the last time we went out because we had to do pick up shots again.
I think magic ended up happening because of those different hands in the project. In this case, obviously many horrible things happened during COVID. But this is one of the small miracles we were able to pull out.
DC: So, was this your first time directing?
Lombardi:It was my first time directing a film. I’ve been an actor for 20 years and I’ve been on professional sets for all that time. I’ve been around actors and I’ve definitely directed some theater and small stuff that I’ve been part of, but this was my first time directing a movie. Luckily I’ve seen many directors work, and I knew Bridget and Samuel so well, because I worked with him as a producer on this film. I knew exactly what their styles and strengths were, and I was able to cut right down the middle when they weren’t there and make the pieces fit together.
A scene from The Retaliators
I also got to work with Tommy Lee, and he was such a sweet guy. When we were shooting in L.A., he showed up and was like, “Where do you need me? What do you want me to do?” I’d heard great things about him, but he was truly a doll and he was so happy to be there. And I thought his scene was kind of perfect for him; even though it’s a small cameo, it’s got “Tommy Lee” written all over it. And he was really happy to share his music—not only Mötley Crüe’s tracks, but he also an original tune he made for the film as well. That will be in there, but I don’t know if it’s in this in this festival run or not. But he has some of his new hip hop rock stuff, and it’s going to be on the soundtrack.
I want the guys to give you one more little nugget. You ready? This is the story of Captain Briggs. Tell him, boys…
Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare: We grew up with Joe Bob Briggs. We’re huge MonsterVision fans. To this day, when the new season of The Last Drive-In comes out, we get together and watch it live every single week. We are beyond obsessed with Joe Bob. So, we wrote a character named after Joe Bob, and that’s a little Easter egg: Robert Burke plays “Captain Briggs.” That’s our little shout-out. We’ve actually got a bunch of other little Easter eggs in the movie, but that’s our favorite.