In ‘Revenge,’ the Trophy Turns Hunter
Posted May 10, 2018 6:08 p.m. EDT
Blunt, bloody and stylish almost in spite of itself, “Revenge” is a synthesis of exploitation and feminism, which might strike you as antithetical ideas. The basic plot — a woman collecting payback from the men who have assaulted her — is not exactly new, and it’s a conceit that can be used as an alibi. The way a movie like this often goes is that the audience is invited to revel in the spectacle of sexual violence and also in the violent punishment that follows. Misogyny is indulged so it can be condemned, and vice versa.
Coralie Fargeat, making an impressive, uncompromising feature-directing debut, sets out to avoid that trap, or at least to build a better one. “Revenge” begins at a high pitch of travel porn and commodity fetishism. A helicopter alights near a luxurious modernist villa in the desert (possibly in Mexico, though the end credits say Morocco), disgorging a guy (Kevin Janssens) with accessories that identify him as one of life’s winners: a chunky watch, a gym-carved physique and a young girlfriend (Matilda Lutz) who suggestively tongues a lollipop as she peeps through candy-colored sunglasses.
Her name is Jen. Her companion, Richard, is married to someone else. He speaks French. She might be American. In any case, the camera observes her according to time-honored cinematic conventions: from behind at a low angle as she walks around in her underwear or a bathing suit. When Richard’s hunting buddies, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède), show up, they regard her in the same way. But everyone seems to be having a good time. The male gaze never hurt anyone, right? There’s a big TV, a good sound system, an infinity pool. Some guns, too, but those are for later.
Things turn ugly pretty fast. The men reveal their true predatory colors. First Stan, who rapes Jen; then Dimitri, who ignores the assault; and finally Richard, who proves to be the worst bro in the bunch. There follows a long working out of the film’s title, as Jen transforms herself from victim to warrior and Fargeat turns her skills to suspense and gore. There is a lot of that, as male flesh is mangled by bullets, blades and broken glass.
Some of this is played for gruesome comedy, especially in the extended climactic showdown. Realism is not much of a concern. Jen’s survival, while neither supernatural nor superhuman, nonetheless grants her a quasi-mythic status. Gravely wounded, she heals herself with some peyote, a cigarette lighter, a hunting knife and an empty beer can. The logo leaves a symbolic tattoo across her abdomen.
And “Revenge” leaves a lurid, punchy afterimage, an impression somewhere between righteous delight and quivering revulsion. It’s both a challenge and a calling card, in which Fargeat at once exposes what’s wrong with her chosen genre and demonstrates her mastery of it.
Rated R. Just deserts. In English and French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.