AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 108 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jen and her married boyfriend Richard fly out to Richard’s secluded home in the middle of the desert for a weekend together before his annual hunting trip with friends Stan and Dimitri. However, Stan and Dimitri arrive a day early. While Richard is away, Stan rapes Jen. Richard returns and offers Jen a large sum of money to forget about the incident, then after a chase pushes her off a cliff to her seeming death. However, Jen is certainly not dead and wants revenge….
I had a conversation with my HCF colleagues last week about this film, and, while I had yet to see it for myself. I did make the comment that it’s possible that the reasons that Revenge – a movie that belongs to a disreputable subgenre which critics tend to dislike – got a surprising number of good reviews was because it was French and written and directed by a woman. Reflecting on what I said sometime later, I realised that the days when critics automatically praised a film that was in a foreign language are all but gone [and in Revenge only the scenes that are just between the three men are in French anyway], but I do think that they like to tread carefully where females are concerned and like to seem very “right on”. Just think of the Ghostbusters [well, I try not to] remake where it was clear many critics really disliked the film but skirted around saying so. While I have yet to read any reviews of it in detail, I do know that Revenge has been called by some a fresh and very feminist leaning take on the rape/revenge movie. I don’t think I’d go that far. It’s certainly great that a woman has decided to make a film like this, and Coralie Fargeat proves with only her first picture to be very adept at creating mood and striking visuals. It looks fabulous, is well acted and contains some scenes that will have gore hounds climbing the walls with joy. However, in the end it doesn’t really add much that is new, there are some sequences of total ridiculousness which are hard to accept even in a very ‘heightened’ film such as this one, and I fail to see much of the feminism others have seen. In fact, for much of the time it seems like a man has directed the film, considering how much the heroine is objectified and sexualised.
The facts that this is going to be a great looking piece, and that Fargeat is already a highly technically accomplished filmmaker, are already apparent from the show-offy opening shot of a wide desert vista that, when the camera pans out, is shown to be a reflection in one half of a pair of glasses. When Richard and Jen arrive at their secluded desert ‘haven’ [and by the way we’re never told where we are, it could be almost anywhere, even Morocco where the film was shot], the house is full of stylish design and lighting including pink and blue windows which are used to great advantage by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert. Everything looks overly bright. Meanwhile our heroine is initially shown as something of a vapid bimbo who even says: “I just want to be noticed” at one point, which I suppose gives her transformation later on greater effect, though you’d swear that Michael Bay was in the director’s chair considering the leering way she’s photographed – unless Fargeat was being ironic or mocking, which may be how many have interpreted her as being. Being defiantly un-PC to a fault, I personally have no problem with this kind of thing, but I reckon that many critics would have attacked Fargeat for doing this if she was a man. She does only show Jen naked once though, and from the back, while Richard is proudly topless in several scenes and bares all in his final scene.
Despite initially having found Stan and Dimitri’s sudden arrival rather off-putting, Jen is happy to lean forward and snog Richard while knowing full well that her bum is virtually in Stan’s face, then dirty dance with Stan. It’s not that different from Jennifer in I Spit On Your Grave [original of course, what remake?] being rather flirtatious at the beginning of that film, which some have taken to assume that it wanted us to think she was “asking for it”. To me, both movies actually seem to make the important point that a woman being openly sexual is no valid reason whatsoever for sexually assaulting her, though Meir Zarchi’s film, which I often find myself defending, will probably never get major critical re-evaluation due to its harrowing, extended rape footage which is still censored in the UK. By comparison, Revenge, after a slow build-up with very creepy acting from Vincent Colombe, has only one sexual attack and it certainly isn’t lengthy or detailed, though the shot of one of Jen’s hands awkwardly moving as Stan assaults her from behind off camera is disturbing in a subtle way. Richard tells Stan off but then offers Jen money for her to keep quiet. Jen retaliates by threatening to tell Richard’s wife about them, so Richard whacks her in the face and she flees, pursued by the three of them. So far so good, but then credibility, even in a film like this, takes a leap along with our heroine.
We’re asked to believe that someone can be pushed off a cliff and get a spike through the chest, set fire to a tree so she can free herself in a few seconds, run around and kill one of the bad guys still with that spike through her chest, then – well – ask yourself how the hell a completely smooth piece of aluminum from a beer can brand an eagle on you, just because an eagle is printed in ink on the label? Frankly if it wasn’t for the very strong performance by Matilda Lutz – who after around half an hour has no dialogue to speak and has to perform many scenes on her own – I’d have been laughing my head off at this stuff which surely wasn’t the reaction intended. But the acting really is strong all round from the tiny group of performers- and thank goodness for that because there’s little real characterisation here. The three inadequate men who like to annually prove their manhood by shooting things are just plain bad, and the woman is now an avenging angel. I find it odd that a female director has her heroine go on her roaring rampage of revenge in bra and panties, though I’m not complaining as Lutz looks both fabulous and convincing even when she has part of the side of her face shot off – though in the next shot it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad. The red stuff flows – and flows – and flows, in fact it’s daft but certainly visually striking how one man can spatter an entire house full of blood before dying. Apparently they kept on running out of fake blood on set and had to keep ordering more. The terrific practical effects also include a cracking exploding head and a bit with a foot and a shard of glass that even had me wincing. Yes, we’ve seen it all before, but never portrayed with such gruesome detail and convincing acting from Colombe.
Fargeat has stated the likes of First Blood and Kill Bill as being influences, much of the film oddly reminded me of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes in feel, while at one point I even wondered if they’d finally made that long threatened The Crow remake in secret. But Fargeat certainly has a command of technique, sometimes using complex editing patterns which only occasionally degenerate into shallow MTV-style flashiness like during a montage inter-cutting a boxing match on TV with Jen and the guys partying. By contrast you also get some nice long takes like the one that follows Richard around and outside the house. Shakycam is used briefly in three or four moments to heighten the effect- of course I didn’t like it and started to feel sick but if this technique has to be used at all this is how to do it! The camera sometimes lingers on seemingly pointless things – an insect on a rotting apple, piss drowning an ant – which you can read meaning into if you want. Dmitri is sometimes inter-cut with an iguana which he somewhat resembles in Jen’s mind. There isn’t really much of real substance here, but you sometimes almost feel that there is because this film really does have style to burn and often gives us something interesting to look at.
Aided by an often growling, minimalist but very effective [and at times very loud] score by Robin Coudert, Revenge doesn’t quite add enough or do enough different things to be the overhaul of the rape/revenge subgenre it seems to think it is, and that some others who forget that it was written before all the stuff about Harvey Weinstein came out and the #MeToo movement started seem to claim it as being. But it is a very stylish and – despite a few serious script deficiencies – well made effort. Fans of the subgenre probably won’t be blown away, but they’ll certainly enjoy and be pleased to have it in their collection. And it shows that a major female filmmaking talent has arrived on the scene which is definitely something to be happy about, while Lutz is something of a revelation and has certainly atoned for her lazily lackadaisical performance in Rings.