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Categories: Movie Reviews

Revenge is a film about grotesque characters, unforgivable actions and shocking violence. But you’ll love every second of it, writes Matthew Wilson.

I’ve got a bit of a guilty pleasure when it comes to revenge films. It’s the same guilt I feel with French extremist horror movies. I know they’re both just excuses for intense violence but, done well, they can work past that. So when I heard about a French Rape/Revenge movie literally called Revenge, and touting a feminist angle, I went in with high hopes.

The film opens with Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young American woman, and her married French boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) flying to Richard’s secluded desert home before his annual hunting trip with his friends Dimitri andStan (Guillaume Bouchede and Vincent Colombe). While they spend the weekend screwing away, Dimitri and Stan arrive early much Richard’s annoyance who wanted to keep Jen a secret. However, Jen enjoys the company and shamelessly flirts with them.

Things turn sour though when Stan takes Jen’s flirting too seriously and violently rapes her after she turns down his advances. Surprisingly, Richard’s more concerned about his wife finding out about Jen than the actual rape. So, to keep her quiet, Richard pushes Jen off a cliff. Jen survives by the laws of ‘Killing Scumbags’ and sets off on a mission of revenge.

By definition of the genre, the story beats are recognisable. The heroine will be raped and left for dead but will come back to wreak terrible vengeance. And that happens, but it’s how everything’s executed that makes it work. Having Jen flirt with Stan fits perfectly in today’s victim blaming society while, in the second half, the slow burn cat-and-mouse chase allowed the tension to be drawn out rather than just focussing on the extreme violence.

For characters, we only have the main four. Dimitri comes across as a fat idiot but his complete non-reaction to Stan’s attack and a surprising intelligence during the hunt for Jen showcases a different man than initially seen. Likewise, while Stan is a scumbag rapist, as soon as things turn murderous he becomes quite a timid character. It’s a strong performance from Colombe, who’s so pathetic that during one moment with a glass shard I almost felt sorry for him.

Richard turns out to be the main villain of the piece, while he’s not a complete antagonist at the start, its right at the moment where he tries to kill Jen that you see how cold-blooded Richard is. He treats Stan with a staggering amount of contempt, whether he’s annoyed that Stan forced him to kill Jen or if he’s genuinely regretful is unclear but Janssens captures that asshole mentality perfectly.

Star of the show has to go to Jen and not just because she’s tackling such a disturbing topic, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. What makes Jen so great is that there’s no innocence lost with her. She’s a male fantasy, entering the film sucking a lollipop (then Richard) before she even speaks and she doesn’t even say that much though the rest of the film. The willing sex object has no desire to talk while the broken warrior in the second half has no need to. And trust me when I say broken is the optimum word. Throughout the film, Jen suffers all manners of violence and Lutz nails how much Jen is put through and how hardened she becomes.

First-time director Coralie Fargeat manages to tackle the subject of rape/revenge through some very clever directing choices. Starting with the declaration of a Feminist angle. For most of the first act, Jen is treated like a sex object; the camera almost licking her as she walks around in skimpy underwear. She knows exactly what she is and so does Fargeat.

Too often, in today’s society, you hear victim blaming and claims of ‘teasing’. Well Jen is a shameless tease but in no way does that justify what happens to her, or to any woman. Despite how sexualised Fargeat makes Jen, she cleverly doesn’t sexualise the actual rape. Instead focussing on the more disturbing act of Dimitri hearing Jen’s screams and actively ignoring them.

The sexualisation does continue, but in a different light after Jen recovers she dresses in a black bra, panties and a knife belt, looking like a dark Honey Ryder. There’s still a sexual element but it’s designed for re-evaluation. The same goes for the finale, which finds Richard spending the last twenty-plus minutes totally nude with a shotgun; flipping the sexual gaze on its head.

When it comes to the red stuff, the film is absurd but that’s to its credit. If Jen surviving a branch through her abdomen didn’t tell you what type of film this is then her cauterising the wound and being branded with a phoenix logo should. This is as unsubtle as you can get but it’s fitting towards the excess of this film. Blood pours from the screen and all the style and symbolism, the neon soundtrack and heightened cinematography that overly-contrasts the screen so the colours are near-blinding, all of it shows this isn’t going for the gritty, morally grey, approach. This is pure extremism and it’s all the better for it.

The entire third act moves through a mountain pass with no way of turning back. Slowly building up the tension before leading right into the finale at Richard’s house where Jen and her attackers are caught in a claustrophobic circle. It’s one of the best tension scenes I’ve seen in a while since Fargeat makes sure you can never really tell where everyone is in relation to each other but knowing that, eventually, they will crash together in a bloody mess.

In a time when women are gaining the courage to speak out and still being victimised for it, Revenge manages to capture the very real fear women have of being attacked just for being themselves and injects it into an absurdist, overly sexual, overly violent, overly stylised piece of brilliance. This is a must-see for genre fans and should stand out as one of the ballsiest films of the year.

Posted on Jun 30, 2018

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