Revenge

Studio: Shudder & NEON
Directed by Coralie Fargeat

May 09, 2018 Web Exclusive
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In the era of the #MeToo movement, it’s unsurprising that female creators are beginning to reclaim the rape/revenge genre. An outgrowth of the exploitation craze of the early 1970s, the subgenre was considered the trashiest of the trashy, but has produced several enduring cult classics like Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave and Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45. As films that focus specifically on the suffering and empowerment of women, the sub-genre cries out for a female perspective more than most. Last year’s M.F.A. by director Natalia Leite was a well-considered attempt by a female filmmaker to reconcile the genre with the nuances of modern gender politics and the realities of sexual assault. Revenge, the debut film by French writer/director Coralie Fargeat, is unapologetic in its use of the genre as a brash, blood-and-guts crowd pleaser. Its contribution to social discourse may be limited, but it should be a good time for any midnight movie crowd.

Fargeat’s lack of interest in the nuances of her explosive subject matter are apparent in the first act of Revenge, which is by far its weakest. Our unlucky protagonist is Jennifer, a young American woman vacationing with Richard, her older, married French boyfriend at a luxurious house in the middle of nowhere. Their revelry is interrupted by Richard’s creepy hunting buddies, Stan and Dimitri, who were supposed to arrive two days later, after Jennifer had left. Stan rapes Jennifer and her attempts to fight back find her left for dead in a vast, mountainous desert. Unfortunately for Richard and his friends, death doesn’t seem to take.

All this set up is perfunctory at best and dull at worst. Jennifer has virtually no backstory or personality beyond a vague desire to move to L.A. and get famous. More time is actually devoted to Richard’s character, although his phone calls with his wife regarding their daughter’s first communion party only serve to provide him with an extra layer of sleaze. Richard is downright nuanced compared to Stan and Dimitri, who are grotesque caricatures of every negative stereotype about European men. Stan in particular - as played by Vincent Colombe - with his enormous nose, leering grin and unabashed cowardice feels like either winking selfawareness or outright self-loathing on the part of the mostly French cast and crew. The rape scene exchanges a skin-crawling buildup in lieu of the event itself, but is ultimately a plot device that allows the shit to hit the fan.

And hit the fan it does. Jennifer may not be much of a character, but then again, neither are many male protagonists in the typical vengeance-driven bloodbaths that Revenge is riffing on. The film seems to recognize this, giving the character virtually no dialogue beyond screams and grunts of exertion for the final half of the film - although that choice may have been made to minimize exposure to actress Matilda Lutz’s shaky American accent. But with her bandolier of shotgun shells, blood-splatters clashing against her bright pink earrings, and her booty shorts and crop-top caked with gore, the character’s pulpy, comic book-ready appearance does most of the heavy lifting. If Fargeat and company exceed at anything with Revenge, it’s balancing the grueling tension of Jennifer being both hunter and hunted with some truly gonzo gore effects and “fuck yeah” moments built to get audiences cheering. This is a movie that heaps an enormous amount of punishment on both its heroine and its villains. It’s apparently set in a world where every person has twenty pints of blood in their body rather than the traditional ten. The violence is consciously over the top, but remains specific and grueling enough to keep the terror and determination of the characters relatable. You’ll never come closer to feeling sympathy for a rapist than you will after watching a sixty second close up of him attempting to dig a massive sliver of glass out of the sole of his foot. The film also features one of the most clever and gruesome examples of wound cauterization since Rambo III. Suffice to say, if you’re here for blood, you won’t be disappointed.  

Ultimately, Revenge is the kind of film that knows what it excels at. As it intensifies, the editing and sound design become increasingly hallucinatory and Fargeat’s slow panning camera milks several tense set pieces for all their worth. The climax, which finds the blood-soaked leads literally chasing each other in circles for minutes on end, is a perfect microcosm of the film’s commitment to absurd excess. The temptation to say it’s a metaphor for the pointless circuity of revenge will likely be tempered by the hoots and hollers of the audiences.

Author rating: 7/10

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