We can talk all about how Revenge is a smart subversion of the genre from which it takes its name. Vengeance movies are typically wrapped around some badass who watches his entire family get wiped out by some villain. The operative word in that sentence being "his." Males rule the action game, we all know this by now. But it's not like the ladies haven't had some glory. From I Spit on Your Grave to Audition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the revenge genre has been subverted before. However I submit to you it's never been done like this.
Revenge is a deserted fever dream bloodbath. Set in the middle of nowhere, starring four actors, and based on a script that has more screaming than dialogue, the movie enhances the senses unlike most thrillers. Mostly shot in daylight, the sparse dialogue hones your attention and the frantic editing keeps you there. When a rapist licks his chops, director Coralie Fargeat cuts to a shot of an iguana doing the same. Hunter S. Thompson would approve. This is revenge on acid.
She appears like Lolita, sucking a lollipop behind cool sunglasses. And, for a while, Jen (Italian actress Matilda Lutz), the reluctant heroine of Revenge, plays the part of the seductress. That is, until fun in the sun turns into rape in the bedroom. She's the mistress of Richard (Kevin Janssens), a wealthy prick who choppers her to an ultra-modern getaway somewhere in the desert. He's going to romance Jen for a day before his hunting buddies arrive, but things go south when the guys come early.
The early scenes fetishize Jen like she's candy. The camera focuses on her every move, her pink star earrings, her Angelina Jolie lips, her bare midriff, her ass. She's an ornament, and that's exactly how the guys see her. Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) watch her like she's from another planet. They return to the ooze. Sexy girl. Must touch. The laws of man no longer apply.
Stan rapes Jen the next day. Dimitri drowns out her screams with the television. Richard, who was off on an errand, isn't exactly comforting when he returns. Jen demands to go home, and, when Richard slaps her instead, telling her to keep quiet, Jen takes off into the desert alone. The boys chase her down. They corner her. And, as if it were nothing, they push her off a cliff where she's brutally impaled by a tree. The Jen problem has been solved, or so they think.
Miraculously, the little bubblegum Lolita survives the fall. She rescues herself, and hides when the guys return later to finish her off. The rest of the film is a cat and mouse chase as Jen struggles to survive, and then the boys do.
While the story here, also written by Fargeat, remains predictable throughout, there's so much style and effort put into every scene it's hard not to admire Revenge. Obviously influenced by auteurs like Nicolas Winding Refn, Fargeat is just as much of a visual storyteller. Her notions of horror are abstract. She shows us insects in close-up, and spiders dying. The soundtrack is full of electric pulses, Beethoven, and deep, shattering voices saying shit like, "Murderrr." Peyote plays a role. And Lutz becomes the perfect manifestation of Fargeat's vision. Wide-eyed and dripping blood, so much blood, she transforms into something else. It's fascinating to watch the unlikeliest person become an action hero.
Imagine Katy Perry in Death Wish.
Revenge is also fun to watch. It's a movie with a lot of waiting. Suspense isn't bought, it's earned. And it's usually earned with time. People are hunting people here, and that means we must wait for the chase to end. In-between is where the fun stuff happens. It's where cuts are opened, and cauterized, and the mundane becomes the macabre.
I mentioned Jen's ass a few paragraphs ago because the objectification of the heroine is huge to enjoying the film. Fargeat wants us to lust after Jen the same way the rest of the world has always lusted after young, beautiful women. It disarms us. It puts us in a recognizable situation. And then it pulls the rug out.
We don't expect the lollipop Lolita to morph into Imperator Furiosa. It's the farthest thing from our minds. We expect her to be cannon fodder like she usually is, to fall for every trap, and to seek out a man for assistance. But this ain't a man's tale of vengeance. It's a young woman's, and the blood gushes faucet-like in waves of pink neon.