Riot Girls

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Riot Girls Movie Poster Image
Powerful females, punk rock energy in violent, cult-y film.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 81 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive messages are few and far between, but some empathy is visible in the way tough characters frequently help those  in need. It also shows value -- and potential pitfalls -- of loyalty.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nat and Scratch have agency, are very resourceful; they aren't sexualized as objects. Most other characters are more or less one-note stereotypes -- some on the "good guy" side, some on the "bad guy" side.


Relentless violence includes lots of gory deaths, including young children. Characters have their throat slashed and are shot point-blank with guns and arrows, suffocated, stabbed, bludgeoned, and beaten with fists (accompanied by gross noises). Blood and gore spatter and spout -- e.g., a character is shot suddenly in the face (which viewers see explode at impact). Dead bodies shown at length, including a scene in which a character takes a gun from the hand of a decomposed body. A boy attempts to rape a teen girl, pushing her down, holding her as she violently struggles; he's killed before he can remove any of her clothing or complete the assault.


No simulated sex or nudity, but at several points both same- and opposite-sex characters kiss. In one scene, a teen girl finds a sex toy in a drawer and steals batteries from it. 


Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "hell," "goddamn," "damn," and "sucks." Characters give each other the middle finger, one boy calls another "p---y" (implying that he's cowardly), another boy calls a girl "bitch" because she's not calmly allowing him to assault her.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink alcohol and smoke pot together; a scheme to sell marijuana is one of the plot points, though viewers don't see anyone buying or selling. A character finds prescription pills in a drawer and seems elated by the find, though it's not said what she found or how she'll use them. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Riot Girls is a movie about two warring teen factions in a town left adult-less after an outbreak of a mysterious disease. Menace and violence are constant, with many characters killed -- bludgeoned with a wrench, shot with an arrow, suffocated with a bag on their head, and so forth. Expect to see lots of spattered, pooling blood and some gore, like a scene in which a character is shot in the face as the camera unblinkingly records the impact. Teens and tween-age children are killed brutally, and dead bodies and deaths are shown at length. A teen boy attempts to rape a girl and holds her as she struggles and fights (he doesn't succeed); as he fights, he calls her a "bitch." Other words used include "f--k," "f--king," "p---y" (to imply weakness), "s--t," and more. Teens smoke pot and drink, and selling marijuana is the catalyst for violence. There's no sex or nudity, but there are a few same- and opposite-sex kisses and one scene in which a character steals batteries from a sex toy. Riot Girls' mostly female cast is rare in cult films, and they have agency and power, but, like most of the movie's other characters, they mostly come off as stereotypes. 

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What's the story?

RIOT GIRLS takes place in an alternate 1995, where an unspecified disease has taken out every adult in the town of Potter's Bluff, leaving the teens to divide into two gangs: the tough but tender Eastsiders vs. the one-percenter Westside Titans. Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) is the Robin Hood-ish leader of the Eastsiders, stealing from the Titans to support his piecemeal family at the graffiti-strewn warehouse they call home. But when Jack is abducted by some Titans and imprisoned by their terrifying leader, Jeremy (Munro Chambers), it's up to Jack's sister, Nat (Madison Iseman), and her friend Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) to infiltrate the Titans and save Jack before something terrible happens. 

Is it any good?

Despite a punk rock look, appealing cool-girl actors, clever insider '80s horror references, and strong propulsive energy, this scrappy indie falls short of cult classic status. The idea of a town without adults is an interesting one, and Riot Girls thankfully doesn't spend much time elaborating on why a "deadly wasting disease" claimed all the parents and teachers and left only youth in revolt -- "mysterious disease" is enough for an audience willing to suspend disbelief, even if the more cynical among them may wonder what happened to all the little brothers and sisters when the grown-ups went. No matter. Only tweens and teens are left, and we're ready to watch a no-holds-barred fight between the two rival factions. Riot Girls gives us that in spades, with multiple brutal scenes of teens destroying each other with guns and knives and wrenches. 

But for a movie that has time to watch one character breathing out gouts of blood as he slowly dies, it's disappointing that it doesn't bother with world-building or humanizing its characters. We like Nat and Scratch because they're in a sympathetic position, trying to hold together something like a family despite threats from outside. But it would also be useful to learn something -- anything -- of their lives before the great wasting took place. We're asked to buy into their relationship, and the two admittedly have chemistry, but it's hard to feel for them when the focus is entirely on action, not emotion. Without the feels, Riot Girls just doesn't land solidly -- it's less of a riot and more of a riff. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies set after an apocalypse. Why is this a consistent/appealing premise? What types of storytelling does it enable? What does it say about our feelings and/or anxieties about our everyday lives? 

  • Getting rid of parents is a classic plot device: Consider how many books, movies, TV shows, etc., you've seen or read about kids orphaned or separated from their parents in some way. What types of storylines are impeded by the presence of parents or other responsible adults? How does it change the story when they've died vs. when they're simply absent for a time period? 

  • What is a "cult movie"? What sets it apart from other movies? What types of audiences do they draw? Does Riot Girls share any characteristics with other cult movies you've seen? 

  • What role does violence play in the story? Do you think all of it is necessary to the plot? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • What makes Nat and Scratch strong female characters? Do you consider them role models?

Movie details

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For kids who love offbeat movies

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