“Vengeance” as a revenge thriller is a unique description of a murder from the eyes of a writer. It explores the very veins of the place where the murder took place and turns it macrocosmic. What makes the film profoundly interesting is that we never see the person who died, alive or murdered. But as the film progresses and the protagonist gets to know this person, so do we, to the point where it feels as if she is indeed alive without being present. The absence of proof of the murder also seems to have been flawlessly hidden underneath the very grains of sand that make Texas… well, Texas.
What Happens In The ‘Vengeance’ Film?
Aspiring New Yorker writer Ben Manalowitz receives a call from a guy called Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) from Texas. He calls to tell Ben that his girlfriend, Abilene Shaw (Ty’s sister), AKA Abby (Lio Tipton), has died. However, Ben barely has any recollection of her, with whom he “hooked up” a long time ago. Ty invites him to Abby’s funeral, and Ben somehow lets himself arrive in Texas for the occasion and thus finds out about Abby’s grieving family. When he is told that Abby was murdered and that he and Ty are going to have revenge for Abby’s death, Ben realizes that Abby’s death could be the topic for his next podcast at American Radio Collective, one that has the potential to define America. He pitches it to podcast editor and friend Eloise (Issa Rae), who greenlights it.
Then, as Ben goes on talking to Abby’s family members, including her sisters Paris (Isabella Amara) and Kansas City (Dove Cameron), her younger brother El Stupido (Eli Bickel), her mother Sharon (J. Smith-Cameron), and her grandma Carole (Louanne Stephens), and other people to find out what happened to Abilene, he finds out just how “big” the case is and the number of people associated with it. It is as if America itself led to the death of Abilene. He meets record producer Quinten Sellers (Ashton Kutcher), Mexican drug dealer Sancholo (Zach Villa), police officers Mike and Dan, the county sheriffs, the Highway Patrol, and the US Border Patrol and talks to them all but finds nothing concrete. According to the officials, she died of a drug overdose, but none of those who knew her believed it as she never did drugs. Meanwhile, Ben keeps listening to Abilene’s recorded songs that she recorded at Spector’s. There is also Abby’s phone that he isn’t able to unlock, which could help him uncover the truth. Will Ben be able to find out what really happened to Abby and thus complete his podcast? Will revenge find its way? “Vengeance” shall reveal the truth.
Ben, the New Yorker
From the very beginning of the film, Ben is shown to be a narcissistic writer whose strength lies in breaking down, if not demeaning, relationships to the point of them being objects. And for someone who is so distanced from emotions, it was unlikely to arrive at a girl’s funeral with whom he had merely “hooked up.” But to his apparent good fortune, he found his next podcast after he arrived in Texas. The way he talks to Abby’s family shows how he intends to use them as topics of interest that will ultimately lead him to the “generalized societal force” that is responsible for Abilene’s death. The forced moral ambiguity of Ben that makes him good at his job is also something that, rather than demeaningly showcasing the ideals that are there among non-New-York cultures (Texas in this case), seems more like a mockery of himself as a pseudo-entitled New York writer. However, it is the farthest from being palpable and makes more sense only when we think about it. In the film, he is shown to be an intellectual person who takes the unbiased side of things and functions on facts.
During the scene where Ben finds out that Abby’s family hid from him the fact that Abby used to do drugs, his arrogance reveals itself. While Ben rebukes the Texas people, whose tastes in Whataburger and their inclinations towards guns rather than 911 to settle differences are apparently barbaric, the film rebukes Ben for being unable to surpass the cliché norms that he has fed into his brain, more knowingly than unknowingly, thanks to the media bubble he makes a living out of. All that we, as the audience, hear him say about life and America might sound like the truth, but as he says towards the end of the film, he is the story. The truth, too, is his, not the truth in general. He is a writer, and as much as he is able to dissect facts, he cannot help but be impassive about them. And it takes him a trip to Texas and coming face-to-face with raw emotions to realize that not everything can be replaced with words.
Welcome to Texas.
The people of Texas, as shown in the film, don’t know that coffee can be taken with sugar or cream. They cannot express why Whataburger is better than McDonald’s. People would rather opt for a gun and look into a murder rather than talk to the police. It is this not-knowing-cum-raw attitude towards life that makes them no less than savages to someone like Ben. Ben lives in the “real world,” where people hook up with different people, and so did he. But when Abby’s mother, Sharon, tells him how “life is complicated” and explains why, it seems to make more sense than Ben’s constant babble. He, too, realizes that he is a “self-absorbed know-it-all” who pretends to know what America stands for but, in reality, has only managed to realize “how empty he is.” Record producer Quinten Sellers, with his concepts and monologues about art, individuality, the universe, life, and time, on the other hand, offers an eerie take on the Texas rawness from a philosophical POV.
‘Vengeance’ Ending Explained- Does Ben Find Out What Happened To Abilene?
After Ben is finally able to unlock Abby’s phone and finds out that she has been texting a guy whose name she has saved as Ben, he calls the person from her phone. As expected, no one received it. Later on, at the “Afterparty”, when Ben enters Sellers’ tent, he notices the same drugs that the county sheriffs showed him, the “oxy sticks”. Then, as he deduces how Seller took Abilene, who had overdosed, to a spot where her death would remain as a mere “statistic”, Seller just appreciates Ben’s method, agreeing to all he said. Ben has meanwhile recorded Seller’s agreeing, thereby giving him valid proof that Seller killed Abby. However, it is not this, but what happens next that is of significance.
The Seller is able to use Ben’s card back on him by saying how, thanks to America, “everyone’s going to have their take” on Abby’s death because “that’s how it works now.” This sentence seems to echo Ben’s words to Ty when he says that he lives “in the real world, and that’s what everybody does.” He further tempts Ben by saying that if someone doesn’t have a voice, he or she doesn’t exist. This is pretty much what Ben is trying to do; prove his existence as a worthy writer by means of a podcast. Ultimately, when Seller puts it out in front of him that it is Ben that people will turn to, followed by Abby’s family and blame them for her death, Ben accepts the fact that “some things mean something.” It is Ben’s new defining moment that takes shape, through Sellers’ words as well as perhaps his own journey to Texas to realize the significance of what people think rather than what people are, when he shoots Seller and kills him. Perhaps Ben was angry at Seller for telling him the truth on his face. Or it could also be that in spending all that time with Abilene’s family, her pictures, and her songs, and sleeping in her room with her brother beside him, Ben had indeed started to care for her, if not fall in love with her.
At the end of the film, Ben deletes all the recordings he had collected for his podcast. He tells Sharon that Abby’s story (her life) is for her family and perhaps himself. He is a part of Abby’s family now. And when Sharon tells him that “it’s all regrets,” it seems to uphold two aspects of Ben’s present stage of life: Abby and his podcast recordings; the two things that could have made him a better version of himself, albeit in different ways; both of which are now gone. And all that remains is regret.
“Vengeance” is a 2022 Comedy Thriller film directed by B.J. Novak.