Toronto Film Review: ‘Revenge’

‘Revenge’ Review: Riveting Tour de Force

With her stylish and bloody rape-revenge thriller, French first-timer Coralie Fargeat turns a disputable subgenre upside down.

There’s no more treacherous horror subgenre than the rape-revenge thriller, because the worst examples confuse exploitation for empowerment, answering graphic scenes of sexual assault with a gruesome parade of righteous kills. The small miracle of “Revenge,” an exceptionally potent and sure-handed first feature by French writer-director Coralie Fargeat, is that it adheres to the formula yet feels invigorating and new, a stylistic tour-de-force that also tweaks the sexual politics in meaningful ways. Fargeat brings a rare woman’s perspective to the table, for one, but she also flat-out delivers the goods, operating at the high end of extreme French horror films like “High Tension,” “Martyrs” and, especially, “Inside.” The streaming service Shudder picked up “Revenge” prior to its world premiere at TIFF, and attention from genre fans is assured.

When Jen (Matilda Lutz) arrives by chopper at her millionaire boy toy’s secluded desert villa, she deliberately casts herself as a grown-up Lolita, with pink plastic star earrings and a sucker bobbing provocatively from her mouth. She knows that Richard (Kevin Janssens) is cheating on his wife, but their unsavory partnership offers the base pleasures of cocaine, luxury accommodations and two beautiful bodies in motion. Their debauched weekend takes a turn, however, when two of Richard’s hunting buddies (Vincent Columbe and Guillaume Bouchede) drop by the house unannounced and spend the evening drinking and dancing on the terrace.

The next morning, one of the men makes a pass at Jen, assuming that her behavior the night before amounted to a sexual invitation. When she refuses his advances, it sets into motion a series of events common to many rape-revenge thrillers: an assault perpetrated by multiple men, a near death from the trauma that’s incurred and a rebirth as an angel of vengeance. The perpetrators have experience hunting wild game together, so Jen, unarmed and bleeding profusely, starts her planned retribution from a profound disadvantage. All she has is her wits, her determination and the element of surprise.

The early scenes in “Revenge” have a sensual pop to them, with Robrecht Heyvaert’s camera fusing the sculpted desert landscapes of the exterior with the sexual decadence of lovers on a getaway. Fargeat dutifully supplies low-angle shots of Jen’s body, but she draws a sharp line between Jen choosing to flaunt it and a couple of leering creeps interpreting that as an open invitation. The rape happens because the men feel entitled to her, which colors the incident with subtle social commentary about how women are expected to present themselves and the severe consequences for stepping outside those boundaries. It may be a minor point, given the scope of the film, but Fargeat feels it’s one worth making.

After Jen is left for dead, her reemergence could fairly be written off as absurd, but its sheer unlikelihood gives her an almost supernatural quality, like she’s animated by the souls of wronged women past. When she uncorks her fury on her adversaries, Fargeat turns “Revenge” into a tense, bloody, riveting cat-and-mouse game that embraces the slick tracking shots and can-you-top-this nastiness that’s come to define the French horror brand. The situation couldn’t be more base — she wants vengeance; they want to kill her — but that only liberates Fargeat and her actors, Lutz in particular, to play up their roles with tenacity and grit. Against the sterile white walls and carpeting of Richard’s vacation home, a drop of blood would stand out, but Fargeat opts for gallons of it instead, converting the marble hallways into Hell’s Slip-’N-Slide.

Lutz appeared recently as the lead in the misbegotten “Rings,” replacing Naomi Watts, but “Revenge” demands more from her emotionally and gives her a physical presence that’s indomitable, like a blade forged in fire. Fargeat has staged the closest thing to a feminist rape-revenge tale since Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45,” but she’s not given to the same street-level grit and psychosis. “Revenge” is pure violent fantasy, a nasty entertainment primed to rouse the self-selected few with the stomachs to handle it. Its editorial agenda is less apparent but there for the taking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toronto Film Review: ‘Revenge’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 11, 2017. Running time: 108 MIN.

Production

A Shudder release (U.S.) of a M.E.S. and Monkey Pack Films production, in association with Nexus Factory and Logical Pictures. (Int'l sales: Charades, Paris.) Producers: Marc-Etienne Schwartz, Marc Stanimirovic, Jean-Yves Robin.

Crew

Director, screenplay: Coraline Fargeat. Camera (color, widescreen): Robrecht Heyvaert. Editors: Fargeat, Bruno Safar, Jerome Eltabet. Music: ROB.

With

Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Columbe, Guillaume Bouchede.

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  1. 137ratchet says:

    Nah, not buying it. Been there, done that, saw this, it’s the same, answering graphic scenes of sexual assault with a gruesome parade of righteous kills. Period. And, beyond the tired old exploitation-as-empowerment schtick (“She kicks their asses, see, but she does it in her bra and cheekies and we put the camera at ass level LOTS!” — even when she could’ve gained wearable CLOTHES from her first kill), the film defies laws of science too many times, like Lutz surviving (barely) her hundred-foot-and-then-some cliff fall and impalement on a spiky deadwood tree (which should’ve snapped her spine); her using a small fire to apparently tip that tree over (whaaa???); cauterizing her stomach wound without ever being shown doing the same to the presumably larger point of entry in her back and bearing no evidence of the sort later in the film (in those many awesome ass shots); and the flattened beer can she uses to do it leaving a “positive” tattoo of its PRINTED artwork on her skin (so we can read the letters!) as opposed to the reversed, mirror image that should be there. And then there’s the trail of blood that the villains use to track her, which runs thick and splashy for a good mile or two, yet never bleeds her out or leaves much residue on her legs!

    And yes, I’m all for suspending disbelief and parking your brain at the door, but honestly, this flick just asks us to overlook too many odd things. Someone needs to tell this next wave of French horror directors that it’s ok to dial it down just a wee bit; otherwise we start looking past the stylistic excesses to analyze the undernourished story and (especially, in this case) dialogue propping it all up.

    • Motion pictures are essentially propoganda ahead of its entertainment value. The objective is determined by whom the film is for….

      A realistic piece of work would have the protagonist in severe pain, enemic and exhausted from a lost of energy–and reflect all this as part of the fight to stay alive. Revenge would not be the goal.

      “ELLE” effectively made the case for revenge without sacrificing credulity. When the central character is in fact a superhero, this does a disservice to women who embrace the propogand-catharsis over the fleash-and-blood reality.

      .

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