Corealie Fargeat’s “Revenge” is kind a new chapter in the rape revenge sub-genre of thrillers and horror films. It deconstructs an often very controversial and polarizing sub-genre to make it less about the exploitation of women and more about the empowerment of a woman who even views herself as a sex object when we meet her. “Revenge” is a grueling film to endure, but one that is also quite fantastic in its imagery and depiction of men as less cunning sexual predators and more slimy snakes that prey on a woman who proves she is a pure force of vengeance to be reckoned with.
Jen is brought on a weekend getaway in the desert with her married boyfriend Richard, who indulges in a fling with her. All seems fine until the pair is interrupted by his hunting buddies who arrive for an unannounced hunting trip. When Jen is raped by Richard’s friend, Richard, fearful Jen will divulge his secrets, pushes her off a cliff and leaves her for dead. Miraculously Jen survives her fall and she re-emerges with only revenge on her mind. Using what little resources she has, as well as the sheer will to live, she at first hides from Richard and his accomplices, but then decides to hunt them down. “Revenge” is pretty fantastic and is held up by the intense performances, particularly by Matilda Lutz.
Lutz presents so many dimensions to her character, taking pride in being something of a trophy girlfriend when we meet her. She soon evolves in to a very vengeful warrior whose self-realization about her self-worth imbues in her a warrior instinct. Director Fargeat doesn’t pack the film with a ton of dialogue, especially in the second half, as wealth of the narrative is told through symbolism. There’s a heavy representation of how the characters view Jen initially, with glimpses at her body, and one character even watching her talk through binoculars. The initial rape scene is sparse but still vicious in how it’s allowed, and how easily it’s perpetrated. It’s a disgusting act, made even more disgusting by how one character watches it as they sloppily eat, Fargeat zeroing in on their mouths.
Fargeat presents an unforgiving environment not just for the victim but for the predators, presenting a sun soaked hell in the desert as Jen and her predators spend their time evading the hazards of the environment while seeking each other out. The script spares literally no one with a ton of grizzly scenes of pain, and yet when compared to the type of degrading punishment Jen endures, it’s all kind of minimal. The cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert (paired with the excellent score by Robin Coudert) is impressive as he accentuates a lot of what’s beautiful and horrendous about the land Jen is held prisoner in, and she’s never spared to the grotesqueness of her situation, even when she’s hiding out safely.
Star Lutz is a powerful performer who keeps her multilayered character consistently interesting. In the current sociopolitical climate, “Revenge” is a sorely needed flipping of the rape revenge sub-genre, and I anxiously await Coralie Fargeat’s next cinematic offering.