UK Release Date: 11th May 2018
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Writer: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Synopsis: After she is subjected to a brutal act of sexual violence, a young woman seeks to wreak violent revenge on the trio of men who were complicit in committing and then concealing the horrific crime.
The rape-revenge story is one of the most troubling and difficult sub-genres of the horror pantheon, with films such as I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left considered to be among the most controversial movies ever made. It’s into that genre that French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat wades for her first full-length feature. Revenge is intimately familiar with the tropes of the genre, and the male gaze exploitation feel that has always been at its heart, but has the strength of will to turn all of that on its head for an exhilarating horror experience that is as subversive as it is gruelling.
Fargeat makes a statement from the first few moments of Revenge, filling her frame with the stark, vivid colours of its secluded desert setting. The visual intensity doesn’t let up for the subsequent hour and a half, whether it’s the lurid splatters of gore that coat every corner of the frame, or the beating sun that seems to constantly boil the powder keg narrative. This is an environment of intense, searing heat, with insects buzzing in and out of frame in a way that often provides the audience with a Brechtian sense of awareness that the camera is there – crucial to the movie’s critique of the male gaze.
It’s that male gaze into which the audience disappears for much of its first act, leering at American protagonist Jen (Matilda Lutz), spending time with her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens). She becomes the object of more prying eyes when Richard’s hunting buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) come to stay. Stan, revved up after an evening of suggestive dancing, makes a pass at Jen while Richard is out of the house and, when he is rejected, he brutally rapes Jen, while Dimitri turns a blind eye. Richard returns and helps his friends to conceal their crime, pushing Jen into a fight for her life.
Or at least that’s how it all starts. Before long, the hunted has become the hunter and the male gaze becomes defiantly female. At the midpoint of the action, Janssens’s toxic millionaire bro turns to one of his terrified mates and says “there are three of us and we’re armed – what are you afraid of?”, revealing the tragic underestimation of the protagonist’s fortitude that underscores every story of this kind. Lutz, last seen in the enormously disappointing Rings, is the perfect embodiment of this defiance, transforming from a carefree party girl to a hardened survivor.
Fargeat pulls no punches with her depictions of violence, though she knows when to turn the camera away for impact. She holds the camera deadly still as Vincent Colombe – on chilling form – demands an explanation as to why Lutz is turning him down, channelling every entitled incel or frothing MRA to skin-crawling effect given recent events. Fargeat, however, hides the gruesome assault on her protagonist behind a closed door, as a neon-hued, eye-like painting gazes down from the room in which the audience is left.
Subsequent acts of brutal aggression are not concealed and, though reports of ambulances at the film’s festival screening perhaps suggested more gore than there is, there’s a bracing sense of practical ickiness to the high-stakes violence that makes it all the more powerful. Fargeat brings intelligence and style to the whole enterprise and, as such, deserves to be right alongside fellow Frenchwoman Julia Ducournau in the pantheon of voices to watch in the horror genre.
Revenge synthesises the exploitation movie and the feel of the European arthouse, bringing in the New French Extremity movement as a major influence. It’s a film that quite deliberately indulges in leery exploitation early on in order to flip the script for a consistently surprising second half that is constantly working to subvert tropes and create a final girl of whom Carol Clover will be very proud indeed. Whether deliberately or not, it evokes the spectre of misogynist entitlement and, therefore, feels culturally relevant in the way that the best horror always does.
Pop or Poop?
Whether you’re a horror buff or a newbie to the world of exploitation cinema, Revenge is a thought-provoking, complex look at the way the genre is consumed, wrapped up in the clothing of a thrilling survival story. Matilda Lutz proves to be a defiant, fearless leading lady who powers the narrative with a keen mind and immense survival instincts, against the massed forces of misogyny and male aggression.
Through the lens of subversive filmmaker Coralie Fargeat, Revenge is a compelling and vital addition to the canon of horror’s darkest corner.
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