Revenge (2017)

*. When Revenge came out it was greeted as a stylish, feminist rape-revenge movie, and I think people were using those adjectives to suggest ways it was different. But much as I like Revenge, I don’t think it’s new in either regard.
*. Is it feminist? Yes, but even within the rape-revenge genre there had previously been movies where the woman had exacted her own rough justice. As long ago as the ’70s there’d been Madeleine in Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Jennifer (note the name) in I Spit on Your Grave (which Zeir Merhi had originally titled Day of the Woman, as evidence of his feminist bona fides).
*. Is it stylish? Yes, definitely. It immediately made me think of the work of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, Let the Corpses Tan) with all of its bright colours and crazy edits. You get the feeling director Coralie Fargeat wanted to make a statement with her feature debut, and she does. Even the symbolism — the apple of discord, Jen being impaled on the very phallic tree branch and then sprouting an erection from her own midsection — comes with exclamation points. But is there more symbolism here than in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring? Probably not.

*. Where I think it could be credited is in being so fantastic. Most people who disliked Revenge complained about how it broke all canons of plausibility. Could Jen have survived that fall? Was that really a likely way for her to get off the tree? Could anyone, among the many victims in the movie, survive the loss of so much blood? Why does Jen only cauterize the wound in her front, and not in her back? Indeed, where did the wound in her back go? And how did that beer can leave a tattoo? That wasn’t reversed? How is Stan firing so many shots out of that bolt-action rifle without reloading?
*. All good questions, with no good answers. But they just go to show that Fargeat isn’t interested in making a realistic movie at all. That really should be clear from Jen (Matilda Lutz) going on the rampage like a Barbie of Death, dressed in bra and booty-shorts with a hunting knife, shotgun and bandolier of ammo.
*. Does the sexualization of Jen go too far? Kevin Maher: “Can a movie be feminist and misogynist at the same time? Can a female director make a cheap and tacky piece of exploitation perv-bait without actually knowing it? Does regularly filling the frame with the lead actress’s barely covered buttocks qualify as an act of female empowerment?”
*. I don’t think the point is female empowerment. That was more what those movies in the ’70s (might have) had in mind. I think Fargeat is sending up the genre by being so over-the-top. I mean, just look at that bloodbath at the end. Apparently they splashed so much blood around that the prop department was running out of it.

*. You even have to laugh at some of the dialogue. Does Jen, who knows she’s in trouble, think that she’s going to placate Stan (Vincent Colombe, looking a lot like a young Eli Wallach) by telling him that he’s not her type because he’s “too small.” Hm. Kind of the wrong answer in such a situation. And does Richard (a perfectly heel Kevin Janssens) think he’s going to buy off Jen by telling her he got her a job in Canada, which is “practically Los Angeles”? Good luck with that.
*. Luckily there isn’t much dialogue after the first act plays out, and literally no more lines for Jen. This is a double bonus because Lutz is left only having to look good in the part, and the camera spends as much time looking at her ass as her face. Which I say is fortunate not because she has such a nice bum but because her face doesn’t register the kind of toughness that seems required. Or maybe she’s really supposed to have that doll-like quality all the way through.
*. I take it there’s a joke, and perhaps a feminist message too, in the way the girly-girl turns out to be so much tougher and more resourceful than the bros out on their expensive hunting expedition. That dangling giant pink star earring is a great touch.

*. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie so much. But it’s more than just a flashy spin on rape-revenge films. It’s actually very well put together. Fargeat doesn’t miss a trick in artfully composing frames that seem like they should be more static than they are. Even in the most formal of them there’s a sense of dynamism. Maybe it’s a trick of the sun, or the way the camera moves. Speaking of which, I love the long take following Richard out of the shower, and I thought the whole merry-go-round at the end was wonderful.
*. I understand people despising the rape-revenge genre. I’m not a big fan of these movies myself. Nevertheless, there are a number of standouts, or at least movies that have gone on to develop cults. Think of The Last House on the Left and Ms. 45. Or all of the sequels there have been to I Spit on Your Grave (five, I think, starting from the 2010 remake). There are even people who find something in Baise-moi (not me).
*. That said, having seen most of these I’d have to say Revenge is my new favourite rape-revenge movie and the only one I feel like I could recommend to pretty much anyone. Whether it should have been this much fun is another question.

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