A couple of weeks have passed since I have watched Revenge, the French/English film expertly directed by newcomer Coralie Fargeat, and yet I haven’t gone a single day since without thinking about it. It’s not often that a film is able to stay with the viewer for days after watching it, and even rarer still that it can be so deeply ingrained in your pscyhe for weeks to come. Revenge is that rarity of a film, and it is without a doubt the best movie that I have seen so far this year.
I think that this film is best experienced when you go into it with as little knowledge of the plot as possible, so I will not go in too much detail on it here. Revenge follows Jen (a fearless, star-making turn from Matilda Lutz) as she goes off on a desert weekend getaway with her wealthy, married boyfriend Richard. When a couple of Richard’s hunting buddies show up early one morning, Jen’s blissful vacation turns into a downright nightmare as she is brutally assaulted by one of the men and left for dead. What follows is a heart-pounding, riveting take on the rape-revenge-thriller, expertly subverting genre tropes and delivering an evolved version of what was previously an outdated conceit.
The first thing that needs to be applauded here is the incredible direction and writing from Coralie Fargeat. What she manages to accomplish here would be impressive if this were her fifth feature, but is completely stunning when you consider that this is actually her first full-length film. Fargeat has quite a tricky task to pull of here: she has to tastefully depict scenes of extreme violence against a woman while also maintaining the severity of what she experiences.
This is a topic often debated about when films containing violence and/or sexual-assault towards women are released, as lesser films often linger on the violence for an uncomfortably long amount of time or film these scenes in a way that could be seen as romanticizing the act. Fargeat walks this tightrope brilliantly, using very quick shots of the violence against Jen and trusting the audience to understand what has happened to her without having to show it to us in detail.
On top of that, Fargeat knows how to stage a gorgeous, brutal action scene better than just about anyone. These scenes are rooted in character and narrative, and are never mindless or frivolous. Her action is very violent but in a visceral and realistic way (no slo-mo shots or walking away from explosions to be seen here). These scenes also follow their own pace and do not hit the typical action scene cues, making them extremely unpredictable and incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Yet another brilliant choice Fargeat made was to set the film in a vast desertscape. This setting is perfect, as it creates a sense of isolation that is similar to what Jen is feeling after her attack. The setting is also incredibly gorgeous, each frame of the film a bold, saturated treat to the eyes. I would be hard-pressed to think of a more beautifully-shot film this year than Revenge.
Along with Fargeat, the other person who I can’t praise highly enough for what they accomplish in this film is Matilda Lutz. Lutz is also a relative newcomer (she starred in last year’s Rings) and delivers one hell of a performance. She is essentially portraying two polar opposite characters in this film: Jen before the attack and Jen after the attack. At first, Jen seems like the kind of character you have seen countless times before in films like this: she’s gorgeous, she has many male admirers and she even comes off as a little superficial. As the film goes on, though, Lutz unlocks new depths to Jen and allows the audience to witness the remarkable evolution her character goes through in subtle but great detail.
One of the aspects of this film that elevates it above seemingly-similar films in the sub-genre is the way it plays with, and subverts, your expectations at every turn. In the beginning of the film Jen is often filmed through the male-gaze, but not in the way you’d expect: here, the camera is acting as an extension of these men’s eyes, as it closely surveys her body at every chance it gets. This is not done so the audience can objectify Jen, it’s done to establish the way she is being objectified by her future attacker and his friends. It is hard to discuss further ways in which this film subverts expectations without giving anything away, but suffice it to say that you will think you know where this movie is going and then it will go to a place you could have never imagined. It is truly remarkable.
This is also a film that was expertly crafted to work on many levels. If you’re an action movie fan, you can absolutely go into this film and enjoy it just for the raw, stunning and innovative action scenes. If you’re looking for something more, this film works also works beautifully as an exploration of masculinity and the culture that allows horrible incidents like Jen’s to go unpunished. I feel pretty confident in saying that you won’t regret watching Revenge, no matter what exactly you go into it looking for.