While I’ve previously discussed horror films in which bands must face the music (and their own mortality), Spare Parts is unlike anything on that list.
In the film, an all-girl punk group named Ms. 45 (which is not only a rad band name, but also an excellent genre reference) are shredding their way across America on a “tour”, playing dive bars and getting into brawls with the locals. They prove themselves to be proficient in combat — kicking handsy drunkards off the stage while never missing a beat — and they catch the eye of a local scout, who’s casting for a different kind of headlining act. The girls soon wind up at the mercy of a community of zealots who surgically remove one of each of their arms, replace it with crude weaponry, and throw them into a “Gridiron” ring for gladiatorial combat. Under the watchful eye of the community’s Emperor (Julian Richings, Anything for Jackson), they must spill blood to appease the gods.
Spare Parts thrums with a skull-smashing punk-rock spirit. Practical effects are gruesomely fun, with exaggerated sound effects that are — at times — shudderingly effective. One surgery scene uses minimal soundtrack to highlight the “sssschink” of a surgical scalpel and peeling of flesh. It may not seem like much, but it helps build an atmosphere that makes your skin crawl.
The film revels in its outlandish setting. When Ms. 45 are innocently brought to the junkyard that will soon serve as their prison, they comment on the ridiculously suspicious location. One of them asks their escort “Have you never seen a horror movie?”. It’s a self-aware moment that works well, because seriously, that place screams “you’re going to die here”. To avoid dull one-note visuals, the vehicular graveyard that will now serve as their home is lit with bright gels, enriching the environment with tone and color.
All the flash and gore aside, I have to wonder if some scenes were left on the cutting room floor, because there are admittedly some points where the gaps in both logic and plot are noticeable. We miss moments that inform other lines of dialogue (one scene starts with the line “you love him, don’t you”), there’s an emotional reveal that’s predictable yet still logically doesn’t make a ton of sense, and there are regular mentions of a “trinity”, the importance of which is heavily referenced but not really explained. The editing of these scenes makes the flow a bit disjointed, and some dramatic bits feel wedged in, but the overall vibe of the film maintains a balance of attitude thanks to the spunky performances of Ms. 45.
The band has good chemistry, with a believable tension between guitarist Emma (Emily Alatalo, Mother!) and singer Amy (Michelle Argyris, General Hospital), who also happen to be sisters. When they get into arguments and roll eyes at each others’ behavior, it’s immediately recognizable to anyone with a sibling. You know what that kind of rivalry looks and feels like, especially when shoved into a cramped van and driven across America. Ms. 45’s drummer Cassy (Kiriana Stanton, The Expanse) and bassist Jill (Chelsea Muirhead, Slo Pitch) balance out the sisters’ bickering and bring emotional resonance to the fate of the band.
Understandably, fight scenes are a heavy component to Spare Parts. Now, as a bit of an action movie nerd I can be rather picky, but I am also a huge fan of practical effects and grindhouse gore, which are both used well here. The battles are an all-out brawl for survival, strung out on anarchy but juuust missing the punch of true riot grrrl attitude. They’re effective, but don’t fully meet their true furious potential. The Gridiron shows they’ve got a scrappy fightin’ spirit, but it’s when the girls are screaming their opening song and ripping riffs on stage that you really believe them as the badasses they are.
When the band is in their element, they’re empowered by their instruments; a six-stringed axe can be just as effective as a sharpened one. I would happily watch another film with Ms. 45 fighting their way through their cross-country tour, scoring their own bar brawls (like a low-budget indie horror version of Spice World).
Of course, as a film about a band being forced into epic and deadly combat, music is integral. Composers Andrew Gordon Macpherson and Alexisonfire’s Wade MacNeil (who have also teamed up for Random Acts of Violence and Dark Side of the Ring) push everything forward with grungy guitar riffs that resonate. I have had Ms. 45’s signature song stuck in my head for a few days; it’s catchy, and it’s great music for kicking ass.
Spare Parts rocks a gutteral grindhouse energy, rolled out with enough flash to keep it fresh. It has a fun concept that acts as a great hook — who doesn’t love a bit of surgically enhanced gladiatorial combat — and it’s executed well.
I still left it feeling like I must have missed some things in editing, but it doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the film. This is the second directorial credit for Andrew Thomas Hunt (Sweet Karma), but as one of the founding partners of genre film sales/distribution company Raven Banner Entertainment, his extensive work as a producer (For the Sake of Vicious, Psycho Goreman, Lifechanger, Trench 11, and many more) shows that he knows what makes a movie work.
Spare Parts is a pushy punk rock rumble. It knows its target, and throws everything it’s got at that bloodied bullseye. It may occasionally miss the mark, but it’s got enough fight to call it a win.
Spare Parts will be available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray on June 1, 2021. You can click here to check out the trailer.