Fans of PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN should take note of this Texas-set story
Positive I.D. is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber
Andy Anderson’s Positive I.D. is the kind of a slow burn revenge thriller that is just as relevant now as it was 35 years ago when it debuted. It was relevant long before 1986 and will be relevant long after 2021. Its potency doesn’t come from the revenge aspect, one of the surest ways to grab an audience’s interest. Positive I.D.’s power comes from the underlying themes of trauma, victimhood, obsession, with vengeance being the idea that ties it all together.
Kino Lorber has just released a Blu-ray edition of Anderson’s film and it lands at a particularly noteworthy time as another story about sexual assault and revenge, Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, just landed a handful of major Oscar nominations, one including Best Picture. Fennell’s film has proven to be divisive, with countless pieces weighing the film’s successes and failures, all of which make compelling arguments. Positive I.D. is a less polished film, but no less thought-provoking and, one could argue, a more successful rumination on the rape revenge story.
Set in Fort Worth, Texas, Julie Kenner (Stephanie Rascoe) appears to be a happy, middle class housewife. Bubbling under the surface of her suburban facade is a psyche on edge. Julie is a year removed from being raped and she hasn’t known a moment’s peace since. She tries to go out with her husband, but just looking at the door to a friend’s house is enough to send her back home. She goes straight for the shower, where Anderson shifts from controlled shots to an extreme closeup and handheld. It’s a jarring shift that puts the audience right in Julie’s headspace (almost literally), and that’s the point where the movie hooked me in. Anderson, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, takes a methodical approach to the story. A lot of time is spent with Julie stewing, just trying to get through each day. The trauma is in Julie’s bones, and Rascoe plays it that way.
Try as she might, Julie can’t move forward. But progress is relative, right? Every positive step she takes comes with at least an equal step back. Trauma is aimless. Julie moves about, not really going anywhere, but she’s moving. Then, upon hearing that her rapist has negotiated a plea deal that will free him in seven months, Julie finds something to focus on. Then, she learns about a legal loophole that she can exploit to create a new identity. With a plan in hand, Julie dons a red wig and becomes Bobbie, a woman from Florida with a rep for passing bad checks.
At home, Julie becomes more confident, seemingly on the road to recovery. When she leaves, Julie becomes Bobbie and slinks around a dive bar, making her presence known. Eventually, Bobbie gets the opportunity for revenge she’s been working for, but at great cost to Julie. With mom out of the house so much, Julie’s daughters and husband have been spending more time with “Aunt Dana,” the next door neighbor. As Julie spends more time as Bobbie, it’s coming at a significant cost to her home life. But she’s determined to get justice since the legal system has failed her. So Julie has a choice to make, one of many, that will raze her old life to the ground, but will give her something to grow on going forward.
Thinking back on Fennell’s film, where the main character is seeking revenge in the name of her dead friend, vengeance is a messy thing. To what extent will a person go for revenge or justice? Is it worth the moral cost? Is the collateral damage to friends and family worth it? Can we seek vengeance on someone’s behalf, or only our own? Does it matter? These questions are complex and hard enough to answer in real life, let alone fiction. Fennell’s film kind of makes a mess of those questions, but I’d argue it does so in an interesting way. Positive I.D.’s approach is clearer and more direct, which makes the film haunting. Anderson’s script does an excellent job building up Julie’s choices and making the repercussions of those choices clear. He builds the stakes up, so that we know what awaits Julie no matter what decision she makes. And it’s a lose-lose proposition by the very nature of the premise.
Rascoe’s performance deserves an extra call out. Her performance grows in power over the course of the film. It’s not an overtly physical performance, but the few instances where Julie does something (a bedroom freak out here, a slap there, the film’s climax), it stands out. The genius of Rascoe’s work is how expressive and open she plays Julie. The character is in her own head the whole time, processing, plotting, keeping herself together. In lesser hands it would come across as blankness. Between Rascoe’s acting and Anderson’s direction, it’s always perfectly clear what’s going on in Julie’s mind without having to say anything.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Positive I.D. is a fine transfer. There are occasional dirt specks from the print, but the important thing is just having access to the film in a modern format. The only special feature is a commentary track by journalist and author Bryan Reesman. Right from the jump, Reesman jumps in with tons of information. With only a 95 minute runtime to work with, there’s no time to waste on ramping up. Reesman interviewed Rascoe and Anderson about the film, and he weaves in a bunch of interesting tidbits. Positive I.D. is one of only a few credits for both Anderson and Rascoe, which heightens the film’s achievements, I think. It’s a fascinating film and one modern audiences should seek out.
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