Directed by Coralie Fargeat.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, and Guillaume Bouchède.
Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men.
At first glance, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge serviceably checks every distasteful-if-mishandled box of “rape revenge” films past, present and yet to come. Predatorial camera lingers, womanizing ideals, thoughtless abuse, then a bloody warpath against guilty men. We’ve walked this tightrope before, correct? Yes, but I suggest you look closer.
It wasn’t until this week’s second free-of-festival-fatigue watch that my eyes adjusted to the cinematic beauty Fargeat uses to elevate her solar-scorched rebirth above bullshit torture porn like I Spit On Your Grave 2 or I Spit On Your Grave: Vengeance Is Mine. While the actions on screen are alpha-flexing and despicable, cinematography is a starburst of colorization and framed nuance. Gluttonous sleaze becomes a representation of how our own base judgments lead to faulty misconceptions, perception ever a liar’s game. Ownership, respect and the idea of collecting “trophies” forever set ablaze by this hunting man-cation gone awful.
Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz stars as Jen, a poster child for LA-bound aspiring models who suck on lollipops and own their flawless looks. This is what no-doubt attracts Richard (Kevin Janssens), a presumably wealthy man who leaves his wife at home and goes on hunting trips with two fellow companions – only this time he brings Jen along. Immediately she’s thrown to the wolves, as Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) gawk at Jen’s stunning beauty. They drink, flirt, get hammered, but what happens the next morning while Richard is away changes everything. Jen is raped by Stan, ignored by Dimitri and thrown off a cliff by Richard later that day as a means of covering tracks.
That’s when Jen gets angry and even. And, like, Rambo-ish.
Are we at fault for assuming Jen is no commando field medic upon first hyper-sexualized glances? This is the camera’s greatest trick. Early scenes are all about zooming in on a tight, bikini-bottom rump that Jen arches high – knowingly – as she wields sexuality like a razor-wire lasso. We are Stan (who Jen seems to deliberately temp). We are Dimitri. Locking in on prey through their eyes in a way that promotes unease. You flirt with me, you want me, I can have you. But as the film goes on, Fargeat strays from sensuality and instead begins to ogle the hurt Jen endures *as a result of* initial perceptions. We’re tricked into pegging the ditzy, bubble-gum sweetie as someone who – in the context of objectification and hypnotizing with “fuck-me” eyes – *shudders* might deserve what she gets. GOOD LORD THIS ISN’T TRUE, THERE IS NO DESERVING…but it’s Fargeat’s uncompromising commentary on such a dehumanizing thought. To then say “Now look at what you’ve done.”
The issue here is you’ll have to buy into Jen’s blistering rise like a phoenix from the literal ashes of primal devaluing. Empowerment comes in the form of bloody, eye-gouging, rifle-scoped murder; her survival a product of burning the prickly shrub she’s impaled on post-plunge (clean puncture front-to-back). No rations, just a beer and peyote, zero backstories. Those in need of reason will be left stranded in this desert of retribution no matter how action-heavy and fulfilling Jen’s trial by gunsmoke may be. If you’re the kind of viewer who might point out how Jen’s cauterization tattoo should read backward (the embossed beer can logo brands an ascending bird with accompanying text on her stomach), expect a few “huh?” moments. How does she patch her back hole? Where are the pools of blood that pour from each body stored? Style sizzles and substance is borderline grindhouse, but the film’s flimsier narrative choices are left in the dust.
Location establishing, color saturation and lens views are all superbly realized by a production that oozes flashiness and despair. From an opening shot of Richard’s mirrored aviator sunglasses reflecting the isolated grounds below as they zoom underneath his helicopter’s belly to a sloppified finale torn from any housekeeper’s worst nightmare, Fargeat’s vision favors meticulous details that work to establish a cinematic personality. Scenes materialize as if Ana Lily Amirpour directed Let The Corpses Tan, so lusciously textured and deceptively vibrant in ways that candy-coat diabolical themes.
Optical palates are almost braggadocious, down to the rad-as-hell electric blue biker jacket Richard wears. Close-ups on insects (ants, mainly), browned apple flesh and hungry insects tally core metaphors that coincide with the more obvious hunter-victim scenario at play – flipped from Richard’s clan to Jen’s own stalking game. Oranges pop with auburn loneliness, shimmering patio looks source tranquillity, and red splatters dye every surface with the remembrance of where it all started. Themes aside, Revenge is a dish served with five-star playing techniques.
The squeamish brutality found in one of 2018’s most savage creations is part in thanks to the unstoppable Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz’s, part due to Fargeat’s glorious misunderstanding of how much blood a human body can hold. Jen, with her flamingo-pink star bedazzlement, endures traumas of the flesh and mind that are channeled into a furious expulsion of atomic gender failings. Lutz’s second life as a survivor pits angst, frustration, and comeuppance against three reptilian bastards in a way that’s only ever about that task at hand. No toying, no wasted pawing around. Crosshairs are set and Jen terminates her way along a path of broken hopes, Lutz’s heroine spirit awoken by the cries of so many women she’s representing with one single role. Bad-fucking-ass (belief suspended).
Oh, right – the blood. Expect gallons upon gallons, as it’s the only liquid shown beside scant gasoline refills. Characters spend infinitely more time spitting streams of salty dark fluids than they do staying hydrated. Fargeat’s deliverance of justice is with a butcher’s chop, messy leftovers spilled for a naked Richard to slip over when caught in a slick roundabout chase with Jen. Yes – it’s the male villain who’s stripped and reversely hunted at *his* most vulnerable moment in a most fitting return serve. Hallways, shag carpets and angel-white sofa cushions all stained with evidence. I would have loved every death to be thematic to the characters’ sins against Jen – Dimitri’s eyes are stabbed because he saw and did nothing, yet Richard and Stan bite bullets – but commitments to carnal punishment are equally rewarding.
Revenge, for me, rolls out a blood-soaked red carpet that Coralie Fargeat walks with breakout regard. I have dumb nitpicky instances where zero exposition faults storytelling, but the highs of Jen’s relentless vengeance beckon like moths to rock-show-sized pyrotechnic flames. Comparisons unto the works of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are apt, albeit with restraint, while Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz unlocks her “Terminator” mode by bursting from a cocoon of pain with warrioress rage. Fargeat and team may not redefine the “rape revenge” subgenre, but work to show what can be achieved by simply doing something *right.* She is woman, hear her mighty roar.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★