Film Review – Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning

The most thrilling action scene of Trigger Warning (2024) takes place during the opening scene. That does not bode well for the rest of the movie. We’re brought deep into the deserts of Syria, where a squad of American soldiers – led by Parker (Jessica Alba) – are chased by a group of armed terrorists. With the help of some pretty blatant CGI, the scene is punctuated by a truck getting flipped over and Parker taking on her enemies with nifty knife work. Why are we here? What brought Parker and her team out in the middle of the desert to fight unnamed terrorists? If the narrative doubled back and explained how we ended up in this situation, we might have an interesting story. Unfortunately, that is not how things go.

What we do get is a mundane, forgettable revenge picture that lacks excitement, suspense, or action. Director Mouly Surya (along with writers John BrancatoJosh Olson, and Halley Wegryn Gross) crafts this as an unremarkable, “Soldier Comes Back Home To Clean Up Local Bad Guys” kind of flick. We go from chase scenes in the Syrian desert to dusty old mining towns. After Parker learns that her father (Alejandro De Hoyos) suddenly dies in his own mine, she returns to the place she grew up to take care of the family businesses (including a rickety old bar) and be on her way for good. But no sooner does she arrive that she suspects that things are awry. She gets caught up in a face off with the shady Swann family, which includes the town’s sheriff Jesse (Mark Webber), the loose cannon Elvis (Jake Weary), and their father, Senator Swann (Anthony Michael Hall). 


If you’ve seen films like First Blood (1982) or Walking Tall (2004), then you have already seen this. But what makes Trigger Warning such a let down is that it takes itself way too seriously. Surya’s direction creates a moody, dreary atmosphere. Instead of us having fun watching Jessica Alba kick some ass, we’re succumbed to scene after scene of mundane conversation, with bits of action sprinkled throughout. The writing is so thin that there are no big revelations or twists of fate. We deduce how Parker, her father, and the Swanns are connected almost immediately. The narrative goes in circles trying to fill in time before the big climax arrives. Flashback scenes, in which Parker reminisces about the times she had with her father as a child, act simply as narrative padding.

The action starts and stops way too quickly. Jessica Alba has had her fair share of experience with choreography – she starred in the action thriller series Dark Angel and the dance centered Honey (2003). So it’s not like she is a complete novice when it comes to physicality. And while she certainly has not aged in terms of appearance, her face now carries the effects of adult life, which is a benefit to the character. There are some sequences of hand to hand combat, with the editing helping to blend Alba’s presence with that of a stunt double. The problem is that the set pieces are never given an opportunity to expand and breathe. Whatever momentum is generated is done away with seconds later. Scenes cut out abruptly. Even worse is the choreography itself. It’s established right away that Parker is good with a knife, but how she applies that skill has little variation. One fight scene looks similar to another, and another, and another – so on and so forth. Not only are the action scenes short on time, they offer little in terms of creativity.

For a movie that has shades of political corruption, smuggling, race relations, revenge, and even romance, it feels oddly small. Surya – in coordination with cinematographer Zoë White – establishes a good sense of place. The border town of this universe is made up of dirt roads, wooden shacks, brown mountains, and Spanish-style villas. The production design creates Parker’s inherited bar as a place filled with memories – pictures of her father adorn the walls. But although the sense of place is well done, the people that inhabit it are not as well realized. Everyone we meet are designed as types rather than actual personalities. From the obviously corrupt Senator Swann to Parker’s fellow soldier and friend, Spider (Tone Bell), everyone exists in a single gear. The same goes for Parker herself. We don’t really get to know much about her other than her drive for revenge. I’m not asking to be told her entire life story, but there has to be something more about her that we can attach to, otherwise why should we care about what happens to her?


I’m not saying Trigger Warning is a complete disaster. Trust me, there are plenty of movies out there that are far worse than this one. But my disappointment in this is that all the elements were there to make it work, but they never came together in a cohesive fashion. This is best exemplified about two thirds into the runtime. Preparing herself for the upcoming climactic battle, Parker takes out her trusty knife and practices some moves. With her silhouette placed perfectly centered against the sun, the shot is supposed to make Parker look like the ultimate warrior. But the way Alba is directed to swing the knife – wildly back and forth like a child swinging a baseball bat – is more funny than impressive. She doesn’t look so much like a highly efficient killer but somebody pretending to be one. There is a fine line between awesome and awkward, but the film doesn’t manage to locate it. It’s all in the details. 

I’m glad Jessica Alba took on a project like this. Sure, the overall result is a letdown, but that doesn’t change the fact that its star is more than able to meet the demands of a physically challenging part. In the right hands, Alba can be capable of delivering a believable action role. Trigger Warning is not it, but I hope that doesn’t dissuade her from continuing to pursue this kind of material.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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