‘Revenge’ is a blood-soaked, violent and gory revenge thriller (surprise!) written and directed by French woman Coralie Fargeat. Within the last year or so we’ve had; ‘Raw’ (dir. Julia Ducournau), ‘The Lure’ (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska), ‘Prevenge’ (dir. Alice Lowe), ‘The Bad Batch’ (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour), ‘You Were Never Really Here’ (dir. Lynne Ramsay), ‘Evolution’ (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic) and ‘Blue My Mind’ (dir. Lisa Bruhlmann) – which goes to show that European women are directing some of the best and most exciting genre cinema around at the moment.
‘Revenge‘ manages to feel simultaneously American, French and African. The landscape looks extremely American, but is in fact Morocco. The main actress is Italian, I have discovered (but speaks with an American accent), the main actor is Belgian, but speaks French to his two friends in the film. The film definitely has an American feel, through an outsider’s eyes, but this works well as the main character Jen (Matilda Lutz) constantly talks about moving to LA and aspiring to make something of herself over there. It is unnecessarily confusing that the film does not have a strong sense of location or a sense of where the characters are from/who they are. However, I believe this was a deliberate choice by Fargeat to make the film seem more universal and also less grounded in reality. The style of the film is definitely paying homage to the American grindhouse genre and the setting has a very ‘Breaking Bad’ feel.
Jen does not appear to be the main character at the start of the film. She is just a bimbo/hanger-on to Richard, a rich man who is having a weekend away, hunting with two of his friends (Stan and Dimitri). However, once shizz starts to hit the fan, Jen very much comes into her own as the protagonist that we, the audience, are rooting for. The film has a pretty naturalistic feel to begin with, albeit in a highly privileged setting. Jen is helicoptered into a palatial modern pad with Richard, who has conveniently left his wife and kids at home. Stan and Dimitri arrive and although they are slightly creepy, Jen fulfills her role as ‘entertainment’, including giving them a poolside dance. The next morning, while Richard is away, Stan rapes Jen, while Dimitri is aware but turns a blind eye. Richard returns and upon discovering the attack, he offers Jen money for her silence. Jen wants to leave immediately and Richard refuses, so she tries to escape. An even more shocking act of violence takes place here and this is when the tone and style of the film changes significantly. This is when the full grindhouse feel kicks in; from the cinematography and editing, to the sound design. As I said earlier, this is also when Jen fully takes the reigns of the film and things are turned on their head.
The use of colour is a big plus in this film; from the claret red blood against the dusty desert to Jen’s neon pink earrings. Sound design is another positive feature, a particular standout was drops of blood falling onto an ant sounding like gunshots. The cinematography and editing are interesting, particularly when Jen takes peyote in an attempt to dull her pain. The levels of violence, blood, and gore go into overdrive here, to the point that they lose their impact because you become desensitized (particularly to the amount of blood). I was not as squeamish about it as I thought I would be, so don’t be put off by this.
Matilda Lutz is clearly the standout here and the whole film would fall down if she were not up to the task. Kevin Janssens is also excellent as the charmingly menacing Richard. His hairy and sweaty chums are the more obvious bumbling villain types, but Richard’s evil is much more insidious. I am excited to see where writer/director Fargeat goes after this. As I said at the start, European women are making some really exciting genre cinema at the moment and (as the kids say), I am here for it. ‘Revenge’ isn’t as successful as some of my favourites from last year (‘The Lure’ and ‘Raw’ being particular standouts), but it is an exciting twist on a well-worn genre. It pulls the rug out from under you more than once and subverts audience’s expectations. It is well worth checking out.
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens