In Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, patience is a virtue of both storytelling and of vengeance. The film may have places to be, people to meet and blood to spill, but Fargeat takes her time all the same. She can afford the build up, in no small part because the build up is as pleasing as the payoff.
“Pleasing” may seem at best an ignorant qualifier for a rape-revenge movie, but denying the pleasure of Revenge’s deliberate, exquisite filmmaking would mean denying Fargeat’s strength of vision, of that rare rape-revenge movie directed by a woman rather than a man. The innate ugliness of Revenge is crystallized by the shift in perspective. Not to knock I Spit on Your Grave, I Saw the Devil or The Virgin Spring, but seeing this particular niche through the eyes of Fargeat and her star, Matilda Lutz, gives the material a unique resonance without abandoning the genre’s underpinnings.
Lutz plays Jen, an American socialite on a romantic getaway with Richard (Belgian actor Kevin Janssens), her gorgeous, ridiculously wealthy French boyfriend, two-timing his wife together in his luxurious modern desert pad. Joining them are Richard’s bros, Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitry (Guillaume Bouchède), who show up early for a planned boys’ hunting trip. Their arrival leads to cascading transgressions. Jen wields her sexuality with neither shame nor apology. Why should she be sorry for dressing to highlight her body or for having harmless flirty fun?
The dynamic shared between Jen and Revenge’s male coterie is built on entitlement. Stanley is a remora affixed to Richard’s manly surface, inadequate in the shadow of their friendship. Having basked in Jen’s platonic notices for an evening, he decides that she wants him. When she makes it clear that she doesn’t, he takes her anyway. In the parlance of rape apologists, she was asking for it. Post-rape, Richard first plays her knight in shining armor, then tries to buy her silence and ship her to Canada, because how else would an alpha male of seemingly infinite means handle a problem other than by throwing money at it? “It’s practically Los Angeles,” he tells her, recalling her dream of moving to the City of Angels. He presents this olive branch with a smile on his lips and in his eyes, genuinely convinced of the magnanimity of his gesture.
When that doesn’t work, and when Jen threatens to expose their affair to his wife, he shoves her to her presumed death. She survives, chokes down some peyote and stitches herself up. Cue arterial spray from all manner of injuries dealt to the flesh. Jen’s botched murder takes place in its first 20 minutes; her retribution occupies the remaining 80 in an invitation from artist to audience to savor the carnage.
Fargeat has more or less built Revenge to function as a feature-length chase sequence. This, along with the desert sands and sweltered aesthetic, will likely call to mind Mad Max: Fury Road for many. For others, the firmly French love of excessive gore places the story in the territory of movies like Inside, Haute Tension and Irreversible. Even The Hills Have Eyes feels like a distant relative of Fargeat’s design, maybe due to her undisclosed location. Revenge could take place anywhere: Arizona, California—possibly Morocco, where the bulk of shooting took place. The elasticity of the film’s geography feels fitting. What happens to Jen can happen to any woman anywhere.
That said, the sun-scorched backdrop facilitates tension. Revenge’s landscape is as harsh as the assault on Jen’s body and as unforgiving as her retribution. Fargeat and her crew seem to revel in the grisliness, making foot gashes, abdominal puncture wounds, and waterlogged corpses look as nauseatingly lifelike as possible. She’s enjoying herself, and it doesn’t take much philosophizing to figure out why. With Revenge, Fargeat has waved a blistering middle finger at rape culture and rape culture’s enablers. Revenge isn’t hers alone. It’s womanhood’s, too.
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Writer: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Release Date: May 11, 2018