Director: Coralie Fargeat
Screenplay: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Even as indie cinema manages to continue along its path of attempting to recapture the “grindhouse” aesthetic and narrative trappings of B movies and exploitation pictures of the 70s and 80s, there are some surprises to be found in which the veil of retro stylings and genre-specific practices are being used to recontextualise old tropes, narrative conventions and signifiers for an entirely new contemporary state of mind.
Revenge might seem from the exterior as a rape and revenge action horror film – much in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave or Thriller – A Cruel Picture as some of the most infamous examples – but while writer-director Coralie Fargeat utilises the structure of these films in a familiar way, what she accomplishes here is something evolutionary in its field. Using her abilities as a director with a distinctly female voice to repossess a genre that regressed all too often into titillation and eroticised violence.
While following the narrative of young American socialite Jen (Matilda Lutz) who is assaulted and left for dead in the desert by her French millionaire boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) and his hunting buddies Stan and Dimitri (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède), and then seeking and bloody revenge on said men, it’s all to do with the execution that makes this stand out ahead of the pack in its deconstructive perspective.
Fargeat’s direction and her use of the frame and visual indicators are noticeably different while holding itself in an aesthetic that wouldn’t feel out of place with a filmmaker like Michael Bay. Draped in the heavily masculine iconography of guns, cars, swimming pools and blistering sun-scorched desert vistas, but channelling through it a near-mythical underpinning.
She operates with symbolism that leans explicitly toward yonic as opposed to phallic imagery, reclaiming the gaze away from overtly male perspectives as the camera looks upon her physical wounds and horrific bodily scars as a hardened warrior wearing them proudly instead of glorifying her scantily clad sexual form. Even the rape scene itself is cut away from and plays out in a discomfortingly detached way as the sound of her cries are drowned out with music.
There’s another point being made here regarding the context of the rape specifically. Jen is a promiscuous and typically sexy character, but whereas other genre films might see this as something as a detriment inviting violence toward her as something that she brings on herself, Revenge firmly makes its point clear that no matter how uninteresting she may initially seem or look like she’s “begging” for it, neither she or any other woman deserves this to happen to her.
This extends to the male characters themselves. Men wanting so desperately to maintain their power and belongings that they go to extreme lengths to keep it and then wish to brush it over in a nonchalant manner. While Richard might come across as the worst of all, her actual rapist is a coward and the other a passive enabler, and the film takes an agreeably sick pleasure in dressing them down (literally and metaphorically) and humiliating them before the audience.
On top of all that, the film is excruciatingly violent. Shedding gallons of blood and tough to watch scenes of physical injury and makeshift surgery with breathless and brutal enthusiasm. The way in which it puts Lutz through her paces is brilliantly well played as she takes it upon herself to use their own tools against them. She’s a commanding presence who uses her petite frame for her advantage as she struggles to load weapons that are almost larger than her in the blistering heat.
The film tumbles into a genuinely thrilling cat-and-mouse game that subverts the imagery in twisted new ways as they wrap themselves around the sharp corners of the modern isolated home. If there are weaknesses then its where the subtext boils over and threatens to turn a nail-biting, near-wordless final stretch into a clearer vessel for its commentary in confrontational dialogue. But it manages to snap out of it in the nick of time before it spoils the raucous experience of the film’s closing moments.
Revenge is as stripped bare and minimal in construction as its frankly landed title, although never as obvious as it seems. Led by a terrific performance from Lutz, and the birth of a brilliant new figure for action filmmaking in director Coralie Fargeat, the rage this will instil in the incels and entitled males of the online community will make this all the more worth the effort it took to produce.