Written & Directed by Coralie Fargeat
Everything is in that title. A young American socialite, Jen, travels to Richard, her lover’s secluded desert chalet for a weekend tryst. He’s a married man, of which Jen is aware, and the relationship is very shallow. Their fun gets interrupted by Richard’s hunting buddies, Stan and Dmitri. They have come a day earlier than planned, and now Richard’s cheating is out on the table. Being his “buds,” they are cool with it and openly lust after Jen, who tries to keep things playful.
It all goes south when Richard is out securing hunting permission with the local authorities. Stan decides to corner Jen in the bedroom after spying on her changing. She tries to politely reject him, but he’ll have nothing of it and rapes her, as Dmitri looks on, letting it happen. Richard returns and gaslights Jen, offering her money and a cushy apartment in the States where she can get a start on her aspirations to be a model or actress. A chase ensues, and Jen is sent plummeting to her seeming death. But that’s just where things start.
First-time feature filmmaker Coralie Fargeat went for a subgenre many people didn’t expect from her, the rape-and-revenge pictures that were so popular during the height of 1970s exploitation cinema. The grand guignol of violence and blood was inspired in her by some of the best South Korean psychological thriller pictures to have come out this century, Oldboy and Here Comes the Devil. She has said in interviews that she’s fascinated at the point in movie violence where it transitions from being something gory into something over the top and operatic, like in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
In the age of #metoo, this sort of movie is seen in a whole new context. In the past, the rape scene would have been a moment the camera lingered on, causing the audience to question just whose side the filmmaker was on. In Revenge, we follow Dmitri as he leaves Stan to do his evil deed, turning the volume up on the television and drowning out the screams of Jen. Before she’s raped, Jen is told all the sorts of disgusting things, so many men have said to psychological harm women before physically assaulting them. Stan tells Jen this is her fault for being playful the previous night and rejecting him the morning after, refusing to accept his own role in what should have been innocent silly flirting. We can infer that may be the first time Jen was raped but likely not the first instance of a man assaulting her and seeing as an object that can give him pleasure. Her reasoning for wanting to move to Los Angeles reflects that idea she’s been convinced all she can be is an object of desire for others.
Fargeat doesn’t hold back on the violence. Jen is brutalized and left for dead, the camera lingering on her injuries, emphasizing the will it takes to keep going when your body is torn. When the revenge part of the picture happens, it is brutal and viscerally satisfying. Jen isn’t out to torture these men, she just wants them dead. I appreciated that as stylish and fantastic as the picture gets (Jen is fueled by peyote to fight through her injuries), we still have little moments where the kickback of the first shot she gets off sends her onto her backside. I like when brutal movies like this, revenge fantasies, still have those little moments that keep the stakes high, showing that our protagonist might not make it out of here alive.
There’s been a lot of acclaim for the movie being a feminist spin on the genre, but I don’t really see much difference between Revenge and similar films. It hits the same plot beats you’d expect, and I was never surprised by any developments. It’s still a delightful picture for people who love the genre. It never tries to be anything other than a story about a young woman killing the monsters who wanted to kill her.