Thana (not Hannah as one might mistake to hear) hasn’t had a good lot in life. She doesn’t have really any family or friends, she works for pittance as a clothing workshop, and can’t speak as a mute. She’s also very attractive, and one day walking home she’s pulled into an alley and raped by a man in a mask. She staggers home, bewildered by the whole thing, but before she can get her bearings she comes upon *another* man, in her apartment before she got home, who was in the midst of theft. He instead decides to go ahead for the rape. Twice in one day? Fat chance of that – she finally takes her moment, and Thana hits the guy to the ground and then with an iron kills him.
From then on the film takes its beat as something of a quandary, but a truly fascinating one: this isn’t quite an exploitation flick, but it’s not really a vigilante action-revenge picture like Death Wish, and yet it has hints of both. It’s like Abel Ferrara and his writer St. John took the revenge element of Death Wish, of taking it to the street to rid the scum, but took it also to another level like in Polanski’s Repulsion. Here Thana isn’t some expert at self-defense, and shouldn’t be as good as she is with the .45 she pulls off of the rapist #2. But she is good at getting her chance to kill people, and she does, even if they haven’t really done anything to her (one of the more curiously ambiguous scenes is when Thana meets a guy at a bar, he keeps rambling outside about strangling his cat, she’s about to shoot and it doesn’t fire, he takes the gun and instead of shooting her shoots himself)
True, not all of the acting Ferrara is able to gather up totally works; some of them, like two actors playing a pimp and a prostitute (even for one scene) falls flat as believable streetwise (better is Thana’s boss, a creep who wants to have his way with her but hides it under a thin veneer of professionalism and care). And it may also be true that Ferrara’s film paints men- hell, just most people- as jerks or losers or total dogs, and really who will miss them when they’re gone? It’s that part of it that makes it an exploitation flick, especially in that one sequence at night when Thana goes out and kills the most amount of people (a whole group of gang-bangers in the park, an Arab and his chauffeur in a limo, the cat strangler). And as part of tugging at the weakest of heart strings, there’s a neighbor who has a little dog and (gasp) will the dog make it through the end of the film?
A lot of this is pulp, but it’s well directed and given a score that is fresh and cool in an early NY 80’s sort of way. And when we do take it most seriously it’s when looking right into Thana’s face and her eyes, which start off terrified and dazed and a little in a surreal mindset (watch when she is surrounded by (over) concerned co-workers, or when she’s in the bathroom and sees a hand near her breast that isn’t there), and soon turns cold and bloodless. It’s almost a symbolic kind of turn, hence even the name Thana which dates back to Greek mythology. This isn’t someone to root for, which is what mucks up the traditional angle of a B-movie. Instead Ferrara is after something a lot deeper. Ms. 45 is action and a bit of horror (dismembered body anyone?) but it’s also a sad tale of a girl without any hope, who is going crazier by the day and dresses out in black like a spider out on the prowl.
It’s got some bad-ass dimensions of drama, and a rather wicked climax involving slow-motion and Ms. 45 herself going in her maniac mode in a nun costume, and is mostly marred by a few sub-par supporting performances (albeit a very low-budget indie from NYC) and a few little unsatisfying scenes.