Synopsis: Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting.
Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède, Avant Strangel
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: It’s often a stereotype that horror films are made solely for men, but it’s hard to deny that a great number of them are definitely constructed from a male perspective. Though the concept of the “Final Girl” has been cemented as one of the classic rules of a horror film, just as many nubile women meet gruesome ends before the last female standing finally defeats whatever has been hunting down her friends. Women are often treated as set pieces even when they are the heroines of their own stories. It’s sad, but true.
In 1978 a landmark movie originally titled Day of the Woman arrived to little fanfare. The story of a woman raped and left for dead who returns to wreak vengeance on her perpetrators was a micro-budgeted stomach-churner that was eventually re-titled I Spit on Your Grave. With a title like that, it caught more attention and quickly became a late-night cult classic that spawned many imitators, all with a similar (bad) taste level. Remade in 2010 and getting three more sequels, its infamy lives on. I’ve seen the original and the remake and…that was enough for me thank you very much.
When I first heard about the French movie Revenge, it was hard not to think about I Spit on Your Grave because they share similar plot elements. A woman is brutalized and returns with full force to repay the men that think they’re smarter than her. I resisted the film for a time because I know how extreme European (especially French) filmmaking can be but once I read the movie was written/directed by a female I was intrigued to see how a story like this would play out as viewed through the female gaze. How would a female approach the violence? How would she treat her victim? Would this be any different than the skeezy schlock that had come before it?
Boy, am I glad I gave this one a go because, as difficult as it is to watch at times, Revenge is a sizzling jolt that starts out slowly and builds to a crazed crescendo. It’s a movie in full control of its narrative and intentionality, always raising the stakes for its victimized star and often putting obstacles that have nothing to do with her tormentors in her way. Writer/director Coralie Fargeat doesn’t create a reborn Rambo that suddenly develops skills to assist her in her revenge, but lets the woman discover her own strength naturally surprising herself and the audience in the process. Feeling like it’s happening in real time, we are right there with the protagonist each painful step of the way as she comes back from the dead, brusied and bloodied, and with a necessary score to settle.
Arriving for a long weekend of hunting at his extravagant retreat in the middle of a desert (we never know where this location is but the movie was filmed in Morocco), Richard (Kevin Janssens) has brought along his mistress Jen (Matilda Lutz, Rings) for some extra fun before his friends arrive. They don’t get much alone time, though, because Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) show up soon after and it’s just the boys and Jen partying into the night. Jen is a flirty but friendly, obviously only having eyes for Richard but still being welcoming to the attentions of his friends. Though she thinks she’s in control of the situation, as observers of the situation we can see how it’s getting out of control. The next morning is when things take a terrifying turn for Jen and when she stands up for herself she’s betrayed by Richard…and that’s all I’ll say about the last half of the film because you have to experience it yourself.
Turning in a truly revelatory performance, Lutz goes from tart-ed up Lolita at the beginning of the film to blood-soaked avenging angel at the end. The woman we see 90 minutes into the film looks like a completely different person than the one that we started out with. It’s a credit to Lutz that she believably transforms the character so fully from a trusting bombshell to an activated creature unwilling to be tossed aside like garbage. She begins her journey back just wanting to stay alive but, when it’s clear the men won’t/can’t let her live, she decides to beat them at their own game and learns the tricks as she goes. It’s a fantastic performance. Janssens is also slyly good as her lover without much allegiance to anything/anyone and it’s fitting Fargeat asks him to be so exposed in the film’s most memorable sequence.
Fargeat stages the first act of Revenge with such a luxe vibe with glamour shots of Jen, Richard, and their swanky surroundings. Seeing beautiful people in a beautiful setting is easy to relax into. It’s when his less refined friends arrive the cinematography starts to get less shiny and more gritty, leading up to the latter half of the movie set in the stark blaze of exposed sun standing in high contrast to the opening. That’s nothing compared to the bonkers finale Fargeat has worked up…and it’s a marvel that she pulls it off so well. This isn’t an easy watch, to be sure, and those with issues on rape and violence toward women are advised to be cautious on exposing yourself to this film. The main violation does occur mostly off-screen but just the fact that it happens is enough to warrant consideration for those who might be affected by seeing this action. As a film, though, I recommend it highly as an example of taking a subgenre of horror infamous in the way it handles women and giving it a fresh (and exceptionally well-made) perspective.