Revenge (2018) – Film Review
The horror subgenre of rape revenge, with such extreme titles as Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, has always had its adherents and detractors in equally vocal force. But these films have mostly been directed by men, and as the film industry beings to take meaningful steps towards gender equality, what place do rape revenge films still have? One person to answer the question is Coralie Fargeat, whose debut Revenge has already garnered a reputation for both its grisly violence and gender politics (much like last year’s Raw, the debut of Fargeat’s fellow La Fémis alumnus Julia Ducourneu). This is a rape revenge story attentive to how films and their audiences look at women on screen.
Revenge opens with an attractive and conspicuously wealthy couple, Richard and Jen, flying in by chopper to a luxury home in the middle of the desert. We are told little, other than that they have a ferocious sexual appetite for each other (though he is married with kids). Two of Richard’s hunting buddies arrive soon after and the four party, though all eyes on are on Jen who’s young and carefree. It’s no spoiler to say that things turn a dramatic turn for the worse, and Jen is soon making her way through the desert, fighting for her life and for some kind of justice.
Revenge is big and brash: Richard’s desert home is garishly decorated in neon pink and blue, signalling a clear divide between how men and women might be framed. Indeed, the act of looking and being looked at is foregrounded again and again, whether it’s the men’s ogling of Jen or the way that Fargeat invites us to do the same. This attention to Jen’s appearance all feeds into her Rambo-esque transformation from party girl into road warrior (there are more than a couple of Mad Max echoes). Lead Matilda Lutz is given only a handful of lines to speak, but she delivers a powerful physical performance.
“Jen’s creative method of self-cauterisation, though a little arch, provides a memorable and even punk-rock image that will surely adorn cosplayers at future conventions.”
Though the violence is explicit, the things that go unseen mark a significant shift away from the traditional depiction of rape in genre cinema. Apart from this key decision, though, Revenge is played straight down the line as a rickety cult picture. To dispel any doubt that this was made for horror fans, Fargeat practically revels in nasty injuries, and the violence eventually escalates to the point of slapstick humour (imagine Road Runner with buckets of blood thrown in). The costume choices aim at an iconic status, colliding pink nail varnish with dry blood and ammunition belts. And Jen’s creative method of self-cauterisation, though a little arch, provides a memorable and even punk-rock image that will surely adorn cosplayers at future conventions.
However, in chasing the mantle of midnight movie so eagerly, Revenge does slip into cliché – especially in a maximalist drug sequence that lacks the bite it really needs. The script is stripped mercilessly to the bone, so there is little left but the story beats we’ve come to expect. And Robin Coudert’s synth soundtrack, though effective, is a little on the nose in recalling the films of the 1980s that serve as inspiration.
Still, Fargeat’s homages are rendered with flair, and there are some moments of real tough beauty. The Moroccan desert is shot with super-saturated grandeur, all red dust and sweat. But the visuals really pop in miniature – there is some fantastic macro photography to bring out the horror of gory injuries, the local wildlife, and even innocuous snacks. These moments of invention signal a fierce talent to keep an eye on.
If the film doesn’t tear up any rule books, it’s only out of reverence to the horror and action films that precede it. This is a fantasy of survival as well as revenge, and has bold, all-caps statements on not only how women are abused but also what protects and empowers their abusers. Though Revenge may be grasping a little too hard for its own cult standing, such standing would not arrive undeserved.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Coralie Fargeat
STARS: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillamume Bouchède
RUNTIME: 108 mins