Director: Coralie Fargeat
Writer: Coralie Fargeat
Producer: Marc-Etienne Schwartz, Jean-Yves Robin, Marc Stanimirovic
Stars: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchede, Jean-Louis Tribes
A woman fights for survival when a desert hunting trip with her lover and two friends takes a harrowing turn.
When Jennifer arrives by helicopter at her lover’s hideaway for a homewrecker’s holiday, she doesn’t need slow motion to sell her sultriness. Strutting to a rock guitar rhythm, painted nails pluck a lollipop from between luscious red lips. Jen no longer needs candy. After lifting her tiny tennis skirt for a brief standing lap dance, Jen drops to her knees, wishing to waste little time in getting weekend festivities underway.
Standing in front of Jen with unzipped khakis is suspect #1 in the movie’s ‘who’s who’ of toxic masculinity archetypes. Richard represents a prototypical alpha male: an athletically handsome former fratboy who struck it rich through charisma, is prone to temper-triggered violence, and feels burdened by a marriage emasculating urges to indulge in ego-driven vices.
Joining Richard for their annual outing of game hunting on a desert preserve are Stan and Dimitri. You know their types too.
Stan was once that guy whose Friday nights began with the optimism of gold chains and too much cologne only to come home from the club punching walls with empty hands. Sitting on a powder keg of frustration built from years of being an also-ran whenever women are involved, Stan willfully misinterprets imaginary fantasies to keep from facing the reality of his relative insignificance.
Dimitri fills the sports-watching, face-stuffing, weekend warrior role. He is mostly along for the fun of piggybacking on another’s glories because the cowardly laziness of being an overweight schlub carries more immediately satisfying appeal.
If there is any one criticism that Coralie Fargeat’s “Revenge” has difficulty escaping, it’s that the movie overindulges in “too much” to nearly comical extremes. Too on-the-nose with these characterizations. Too over-the-top with blood-soaked visceral violence. And at one hour and 48 minutes, too long for four people to run through a familiar rape-revenge routine.
Except this has less to do with any misguidedly cartoonish sensibilities and relates more to the fact that “Revenge” simply has no interest in, and zero use for, subtlety. When the second sequence with the core quartet involves a montage of the men watching wrestling and doing swimming pool dives with full wine bottles in hand, it isn’t because the movie thinks its audience won’t smell the testosterone without smashing them in the face first. It’s because “Revenge” wants to dare you to see it as shallow just so it can shame you through sheer force of cinematic style.
“Revenge” baits this trap with a sequence of sexual assault defense lawyer arguments in physically illustrated form. Concurrently overdressed and underdressed in plunge-cut cocktail attire, Jen turns the patio into a catwalk intended to entice Richard while stoking Stan and Dimitri’s infatuated envy. “Why was she dressed like that?” Curling a ‘come hither’ finger, music moves Jen to invite Stan for a gyrating grind akin to the thong tease Richard received earlier. “What was he supposed to think given the way she intentionally turned him on?” Don’t dismiss Jen’s penchant for confidently flaunting her body in provocative panties either. “She shouldn’t have been drinking in a sexually-charged atmosphere while alone with three men.”
By presenting Jen as a supposed “slut who was asking for it” rather than a virginal girl-next-door in unfortunate circumstances, “Revenge” fashions itself into a perfectly pitched critique on contemporary rape culture. It’s a bold move prone to misconstrued takes given how the movie’s attitude promotes exaggerated imagination. Yet in a post-#MeToo climate, “Revenge’s” atypical skew challenges the reexamination of outdated perceptions through the deceptive simplicity of its horrifying scenario.
Come at it with counterarguments for culpability. See how well they stand up when openly lambasted onscreen.
As “too much” as it is, the movie doesn’t wish to be too real. Hyperstylized color hues and overdramatized beats like an incidental phoenix brand on Jen’s stomach smash all lines of restraint when it comes to thematic symbolism. Fargeat employs such techniques to balance brutality with exploitation entertainment appeal. Otherwise, the taste might be too authentic to be palatable.
Realism takes a bigger hit from the plot’s predictable pathway. Although anticipatory tension remains tight throughout the buildup, the premise assures us Jen’s assault is inevitable anyway, as is her subsequent recovery from an apparent death. And based solely on their hierarchy, anyone can correctly guess in what order payback will be taken.
But a rape-revenge thriller will always convey underlying messaging when its actors effectively embody requisite personalities. In that regard, “Revenge” certainly succeeds.
Matilda Lutz, the closet anyone can get to looking like Emilia Clarke without actually being Emilia Clarke, takes Jen from vacantly hollow to empathetically endearing in a surprisingly short span. By the time Jen’s transformation into a resilient heroine completes its cycle, you’ll have a hard time remembering she was previously presented as a merely materialistic sex object knowingly sleeping with a married man. The three men similarly fulfill their function of being awful to the point where one cannot help but eagerly await their cutthroat comeuppance.
Revenge thrillers can be difficult to watch for obvious reasons of inherently uncomfortable subject matter. A less obvious reason involves overexposure to the subgenre. Mileage you’ll get out of “Revenge” is directly proportionate to your tolerance for the tropes and susceptibility to Coralie Fargeat’s sizzling style. The more you can see the movie from her side, the more you can appreciate how “Revenge” doesn’t resort to being sleazy or limit its appeal to grindhouse gorehounds. Uniqueness like this sets apart “Revenge” as one of the most substantially striking and visually arresting achievements in its class.
Review Score: 75