SYNOPSIS: Jen (fearlessly embodied by Matilda Lutz, Rings) is enjoying a romantic getaway with her wealthy boyfriend which is suddenly disrupted when his sleazy friends arrive for an unannounced hunting trip. Tension mounts in the house until the situation abruptly--and viciously--intensifies, culminating in a shocking act that leaves Jen left for dead. Unfortunately for her assailants, Jen survives and reemerges with a relentless, wrathful intent: revenge. A white-knuckle tale of transgression and transformation, REVENGE gloriously blurs the lines of vengeance and survival while simultaneously delivering a ferocious dissection of gender and genre..
The title says it all – this is no less, and no more, than a rape-revenge film, but one that is brutally, bloodily and beautifully executed. Written and directed by French newcomer Coralie Fargeat, it injects a feminist sensibility into the traditional (male) exploitation genre, and antithetical as that may sound, the combination of misogyny and reprisal makes for a gripping, even compelling, watch.
The first 15 minutes show how deftly Fargeat plays up audience expectations: in hyper-saturated colours, our star Jen (Matilda Lutz) alights from a chopper at a luxurious modern villa in the middle of the desert with her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens), suggestively tonguing a lollipop while peeping through candy-coloured sunglasses. The camera lingers over every inch of her taut, tanned skin, aping the male gaze as ostentatiously as it does obviously.
Jen has accompanied Richard for a weekend of sex, booze and hunting, and though she’s a little surprised by the early arrival of his hunting buddies, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede), she eventually gets over their leering and even gets into the mood to titillate one of them by dancing provocatively against him by the pool that night. She’s all too aware that both Stan and Dimitri want a piece of her, but is clearly too basking in their attention as an object of both their desires.
What she doesn’t expect is Stan sexually assaulting her in the morning while Richard is away, and when she tells Richard expecting that he would somehow help her get even, he tells her instead to let it go. She refuses, and after some protracted running in the wide open desert, she comes to the edge of a cliff where she has no choice but to confront all three men at once. Little does she expect that Richard will push her off, although she is both saved yet severely injured by a wooden branch sticking out from the ground that pierces her in one side.
It’s no surprise that she survives, and the rest of the movie sees her not only evading Richard, Stan and Dimitri, but also transform from prey to predator in order to exact sweet comeuppance against them. Jen’s rebirth as a Valkyrie is truly a sight to behold – cauterising the gash with a beer can, her belly is thus branded with the logo of a phoenix, and it is a symbol that needs no further explanation. It’s raw and intense all right, even more so when she starts taking the fight to Stan and Richard, but equally it is undeniably cathartic watching her claim payback with bullets, blades and even mangled glass.
Oh yes, there is plenty of violence and gore in the second half, so those looking for any hint of subtlety need not apply. Such excesses have always been part of the subgenre’s indulgences, and Fargeat here makes no attempt to disguise those same tendencies. Neither is she interested in trying to pretend that hers is any more than a B-movie, so the story is kept simple yet just effective enough to offer the backdrop for scenes of sheer adrenaline-filled terror.
We should add too that Fargeat has a wicked sense of humour, no more apparent than in how Richard is fresh out of the shower and naked throughout his cat-and-mouse game with Jen back at the house. It is these little touches, plus Fargeat’s firm grasp of the subgenre beats, that make ‘Revenge’ such an effective rape-revenge addition. Of course, the feminist spin makes it even more relevant in this day and age, so if you’re into such movies, we guarantee you that you’re in for an exhilarating thrill ride.
Review by Gabriel Chong