Friday, May 11, 2018

Movie Review: Revenge

Revenge **** / *****
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat.
Written by: Coralie Fargeat.
Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (Jen), Kevin Janssens (Richard), Vicent Colombe (Stan), Guillaume Bouchede (Dimitri).
Is there a more problematic subgenre of horror films than the Rape/Revenge film? More often than not, the genre is used as an excuse to revel in sexual violence directed at women in the opening half – and then uses the second half, where she exacts her revenge on those who raped her, as a way of saying “We are endorsing, rape – they get punished for it”. Even some of the good movies (like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left) that take this structure leave you feeling in need of a shower afterwards. In 2016, Paul Verhoeven made Elle – which in broad outlines is a rape/revenge film – and made a great film out of it – painting a complex portrait of why this one woman dealt with her rape in that specific way. Still, what has been lacking is a female take on the genre – and that is what Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge really is.
In the film, Matilda Lutz stars as Jen, who when we first see her, looks like she just won a Sue Lyon in Lolita look-a-like contest – stepping off a helicopter, sucking a lollipop, with heart shaped sunglasses. She is the mistress of a rich man (Kevin Janssens) who has brought her to his remote “hunting cabin” (bigger, and fancier than anyone’s house you’ve ever been to) for a couple of days of eating, drinking and sex. Things go according to plan, until two hunting buddies show up a day early. Another long night of drinking ensues – as Jen flirts with Richard’s friends – especially Stan (Vincent Colombe) – as she dances with him, and grinds up against him. The next day, as Richard is way for the morning, Stan comes onto Jen, who in the sober light of day, isn’t interested in Stan – and is incredibly uncomfortable with the creepy way he looks at her. He keeps pressuring – and while Dmitri (Guillaume Bouchede) walks in on them, with more than enough time to intercede with what is clearly happening, he decides it better to simply walk away. The rape itself is barely seen, completely not graphic, and made to look appropriately ugly. When Richard doesn’t returns, he doesn’t respond the way Jen hopes he would – a sequence that ends with her impaled on a tree. She’s just getting warmed up though – her transformation from blonde, Lolita to dark haired warrior is just beginning.
What makes Revenge work as a take on the rape/revenge genre is how very closely it resembles one. Had another director worked with Fargeat’s screenplay, they easily could have made the kind of offensive, exploitive film this film actively works against. The subversion is all in the direction. The opening scenes make it look like a more typical film of this sort. Jen’s introduction however is as close as the film is going to get in terms of aping the male gaze that is common in these films. We do not get the typical close-ups of Jen’s body parts, or the obligatory sex scene in early that reducing her to a sex object – although we do get enough to know that Richard, and his friends, see her as little other than just that. The rape itself is ugly – but brief. It’s almost more disturbing in the sequence leading up to the rape, where Stan delivers what is a classic “nice guy” speech to her – you know the type of speech I mean, the one where they complain that women never want a nice guy like them, but are only delivered my people are adamantly not nice guys.
The second half of the film, as Jen transforms into a warrior goddess is in many ways more typical than the first half. It’s bloody as hell, and expertly choreographed by Fargeat for maximum effect, but it’s harder to subvert that half of the rape/revenge scenario. It does make all three of the men more pathetic than normal – underneath, they are all weak little babies.
Revenge isn’t a perfect film. It goes on too long at nearly two hours (a film like this should be in and out in 90 minutes – anything longer, and it’s harder to sustain the tension, and you run the risk of repeating yourself). I don’t think the whole peyote interlude was really necessary, and it does kind of drag the film to a halt. But overall, this is a great horror film – a fascinating take on a genre that has always claimed to be feminist, but never really was.

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