**Trigger Warning** This is a review of a rape-revenge film and does talk about rape and sweet, sweet revenge.
Whether it’s simply a matter of good timing or the foresight of a visionary, the rape-revenge thriller is making a comeback. On the heels of the #Metoo Movement French director Coralie Fargeat is taking advantage of the climate with the release of her debut film “Revenge.” It’s a post-modern rape-revenge thriller that feels like it was directed by Patrick Bateman and written in a collaborative effort of every woman ever wronged by a man, ever. And it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time.
Jen (Matilda Lutz) and Richard (Kevin Janssens) emerge from a helicopter in the middle of a desert like a Tom Ford ad from hell. Jen is all vapid nothingness in the way that makes IG stars out of women just like her. She’s the combined efforts of trashy blonde extensions, an out of this world ass and the ticking clock of her youth. Jen’s accompanied by her French sugar daddy Richard who lets her blow him and then has the audacity to take a call from his wife. But…he’s rich and he’s got the abs of a deranged sociopath, so she obviously forgives him for this transgression and the two canoodle the night away.
In the morning, while Jen is prancing around Richard’s slick desert oasis she’s confronted by Richard’s two douchey friends Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) who show up for a scheduled hunting trip a day early. The streams have crossed and shit is awkward. Richard’s friends obviously know the kind of slime bag he is catching him with Jen doesn’t even phase them. The three men look at Jen the way a cartoon wolf looks at anything it desires.
The three start partying the only way middle aged rich men and a young girl can–excessively. Richard hands Jen some hallucinogens as the party starts and tells her to hide it somewhere safe. Obviously, the safest place is on Jen’s rockin’ body so she places it inside a locket around her neck and then returns to the party like a lamb going to slaughter. Jen tries to dance provocatively with Richard, who rejects her advances in front of his friend. So she opts to dance with one of his friends. The night is a series of jump cuts of dancing and partying and drinking. Even though everyone seems to be having the time of their life there is a sinking feeling of what’s to come.
The next morning, Jen awakes alone in bed. When she searches the Ian Schrager inspired compound there’s no sign of Richard. Jen joins Stan on the patio. He tells her Richard is running an errand for a couple of hours and brings up the night before. It’s just the two of them because Dimitri is soaking off his hangover in the infinity pool. Stan brings up the night before, elegant as an elephant, he accuses her of trying to seduce him. Jen is visibly weirded out so she goes back into the house to shower. While she packs to leave, she catches Stan watching her. This is when shit gets dark, but you know what’s coming.
Stan asks Jen why she doesn’t like him. It hits like a thousand punches to the gut. The moment is entirely relatable in a way that forces me to relive a thousand similar instances from my own life. She tells him it’s because he’s too short for her. He laughs. There is fear in her eyes and she hopes that this will temper him. It doesn’t. Thank god Fargeat doesn’t make us watch the rape scene, but what she does is much more ominous. Dimitri walks in as it begins and after Stan shouts at him to join them or fuck off, he shuts the door and wanders back out to the pool, but not before he turns up the volume on the TV to drown out Jen’s screams. In this way Fargeat spares us the horror of the ’70s rape scene (think “Ms .45,” “I Spit On Your Face,” and “They Call Her One Eye”), but it’s no less jarring.
Richard returns to a cluster fuck of a situation. He tries to do damage control but Jen is a beautiful privileged white woman who doesn’t want to play nice. She and Richard get into it and when the conversation escalates into physical violence Jen takes off running into the desert. There is literally no where to run and the three men chase her to the edge of a cliff where the unthinkable happens and she is pushed off a cliff and left for dead. Obviously, she doesn’t die or why would I even be writing this. She’s impaled by a tree branch that impedes her fall and prevents her death.
Jen uses her lighter to burn some brush so the branch breaks off and she slinks away so the men cannot see her. By the time they get to the bottom of the mountain Jen has disappeared and the sun is setting. The trio of misogynists decide to hunt something a little more exciting on this trip, Jen. But there is something wholly religious about being a woman with few fucks left to give and during a confrontation with Dimitri, Jen grabs his hunting knife and stabs him in the eyes, killing him. She takes his gun, ammo and four wheeler to get as far away from Stan and Richard as possible.
The four wheeler runs out of gas and Jen slinks for cover at the base of a cave where she remembers she has the hallucinogen Richard gave her. With pretty much no other option, she forces down the drug and then proceeds to be rebirthed through the experience. The next day she emerges from where she was hiding with her wound cauterized leaving the impression of a phoenix where the branch used to be. From this point on, Jen the party girl who dreamed of Los Angeles no longer exists and in her place is a mean mother fucking servant of vengeance. She’s now a sort of love child of The Bride from “Kill Bill” and Elaine from “The Love Witch.” She’s beautiful, dangerous and any man who has crossed her will suffer excruciatingly. As you probably expect, Jen continues her roaring rampage by hunting down Stan and Richard in what are easily some of the bloodiest scenes I have ever enjoyed. I won’t spoil how everything unfolds and exactly how Jen vindicates herself, but know that she succeeds at her mission.
“Revenge” is a sort of French exploitation film from the hell in the way that it exploits how rich white men always seem to get away with everything. Fargeat successfully executes the first rape-revenge film of the post #metoo era and she did it with the lingering subjectivity of someone who knows better but has been through worse. According to Dread Central, Fargeat prepared for the rape scene by considering the psychological aspects of the game men play withe women saying:
It’s often not the physical violence, but much more the psychological violence and the consideration that can paralyze you and also the manipulative thing that the guy is trying to make her believe that she’s the one responsible for what’s happening to her and that she created the situation. All this I think can really mess up your ability to defend yourself and to react, and I think there are very different ways of being very violent and of projecting this violence on someone.
For me, Fargeat nails this because even though I didn’t have to watch a horrifying rape scene I was immediately prisoner of my own similar experiences. The moments leading up to the rape are an excellent examples of the games men play with women in these kinds of horrible scenarios. It’s those moments that linger in the back of your head later. The why didn’t I run? Why did I have to say he was too short? Why wasn’t I nicer? This was really powerful storytelling and couldn’t have been executed by a man because they do not possess the scope necessary to know what it’s like to be in this situation.
But storytelling is just a small fraction of Fargeat’s talent. She has a hell of an eye. Every frame is a postcard. Even though most of the film is like the bloody wet dream of John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino, I was hypnotized by the visual landscape. However, “Revenge” would lack its visual scope without the talents of cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert. His work here is breathtaking af. The plot is admittedly flimsy and you really have to lean into the suspension of disbelief at times, but that’s easy to do because of how well the film is shot. Plus, it helps highlight the importance of the juxtaposition between the beautiful backdrop and the horrors that unfold within Richard’s chic bachelor pad.
“Revenge” gives a voice to countless women who have suffered at the hands of men. There is something to be said of the way that men are currently reacting to the shift in power as victims tell their stories. The frustration from these guys fuels the need for stories where women even the score. This is especially poignant when you consider our President admittedly treats women like breath mints. Our post modern Teflon Don and his ability to shake off his habitual mistreatment of women deftly resembles the hubris of Richard and his friends before they realize that their time is up. I’m not saying that things will end this bloodily for President Piss Pants, but I like hope the outcome of “Revenge” is the justice women everywhere deserve.