Even with a simple and uninspired plot, REVENGE, a French rape-revenge horror film debut directed by Coralie Fargeat and filmed by Robrecht Heyvaert, is both ruthless and alluring. The exhausted genre is revamped with the female perspective of Fargeat that proves how important it is to her to make a badass movie about badass female power addressing the all too common issue of the place of a woman.
Jen (Matilda Lutz) is the epitome of the All-American female objectification – thin, tan, long flowing blonde hair, blue eyes, and pouting lips. When she arrives via chopper with her married French boy toy, Richard (Kevin Janssens), at his secluded desert bachelor pad, we can already tell that this is supposed to be a weekend of unscrupulous hot sex by how quickly her lips go from bobbing on a lollipop to giving head. Throughout the movie, she is constantly sporting the dental floss underwear that leaves little to the imagination as well as hot pink plastic star earrings that evoke a sense of carefree trouble. Fargeat deliberately wants you to objectify Jen, as the camera is constantly glued to her ass as she moves from room to room.
Jen and Richard’s rendezvous is soon interrupted when Richard’s hunting buddies, Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède), show up. From the moment they are introduced, every interaction leaves a bad taste, from cringe worthy gawking to unwelcomed advances – Fargeat wants you to feel uncomfortable as the camera lingers along with the lingering glances. A night of cocaine induced debauchery by the pad’s archetypal infinity pool follows as Jen puts on a show for the guys by rubbing herself on the salivating Stanley. Even though she means to gain nothing from this but self-indulgent attention and fun, already we are in the uncomfortable situation women know all too well – expectation.
The next morning, the consequences from the night before immediately unfold. With Richard gone for a couple hours, Stanley grows frustrated when he notices that Jen’s body language towards him has changed. Her discomfort is palpable and noticeably causes a hitch in the audience’s breath. The pace of the film starts to slow down as sober senses heighten, and if I wasn’t paying attention before, Fargeat had my undivided attention now. In an interaction that can only be characterized as a woman’s worst nightmare, Stanley demands to know why Jen does not find him attractive today when she clearly found him attractive the night before. The movie’s tone dramatically shifts as the unsatisfied and entitled Stanley, stakes his claim by (spoiler) raping Jen. As the rape-revenge trope starts to unravel, I start to realize that this is when the actual act of revenge occurs. The all too familiar scenario of a delicate male ego wounded by the rejection of a woman leading to the retribution of sexual violence.
When Richard comes back and realizes that Jen needs to be subdued, Jen aimlessly runs off in the desert with nowhere to go. The men catch up to her as she edges a cliff off a canyon and Richard, who now sees Jen as a liability, pushes her off to her inevitable doom. What is barely a believable recovery, Jen, impaled on the branch of a shrub and left for dead, awakens reborn. Fargeat depicts Jen’s grisly genesis through stunning imagery of her blood dripping off her body and drowning an army of ants below, foreshadowing her next move – not necessarily vengeance but in what it will take for her to survive. As she struggles to free herself from the branch, we witness Jen’s transition from coquettish and reckless to sober and calculated.
The rest of the film plays out as a bloody, striking, and nail-biting formulaic cat-and-mouse scene. With Jen’s fight-or-flight in full force, she buds into an unexpected Furiosa as she motorbikes through the desert in search of safety to regroup and face the inevitable showdown between her and the men. In what is arguably one of the most pivotal scenes, Jen finds shelter in a cave where she discovers some peyote that Richard had given her earlier and eats some to alleviate the pain as she cauterizes her wounds (in a pretty questionable way). But what follows is a series of hallucinogenic awakenings where we can’t distinguish between reality and nightmare, but as she separates the two there rises a numb and indomitable Jen who will stop at nothing to survive.
If the banal trope is not for you just know that the cinematography and rhythm of the film is undeniable. Heyvaert uses low shots to evoke the constant vulnerability of not just Jen but eventually the men as well. With the sweeping desert shots and even the use of the infinity pool, Fargeat does not want there to be any place to hide and creates the perfect arena for The Most Dangerous Game. If you are not into gore then Revenge isn’t for you, as blood is used as the sole contrast to desert throughout the entire film. Heyvaert even blesses us with a satisfyingly macabre blood bath scene that might even give The Shining a run for its money.
Ultimately, what bothered me the most was the title Revenge itself. When I think of movies with strong revenge tropes I immediately think of Old Boy or Kill Bill where the psychological need for vengeance is not achieved through the simple act of survival but it is sought out despite other alternatives. Jen is trying to survive but she knows the only way to do that in the middle of nowhere is to eliminate her enemy, not just run away. Regardless, you will still leave the movie feeling avenged but Fargeat fails to show that Jen’s motives deserved the movie’s title and were not mainly based on survival.