It seems the rape/revenge film may finally be going mainstream. Last year saw M.F.A. become a hit on the festival circuit. Now Revenge, the debut feature by French director Coralie Fargeat is getting plenty of attention for both its violence and for allegedly subverting the genre. Does it live up to its hype? Not entirely…
Richard (Kevin Janssens, The Bouncer), a wealthy, and married, middle-aged businessman and his mistress Jen (Matilda Lutz, Rings) helicopter into Richard’s lavish vacation home somewhere in the desert. he’s planning a few days with her before his buddies show up for some hunting. When they show up early things get out of hand, leading to Stan (Vincent Colombe) raping Jen. When Richard refuses to call the police and tries to buy her off she threatens to go public. Murder then becomes an option in Richard’s mind. But they leave the job half done and Jen is alive and out for revenge.
Strictly as an action film with no subtext, yes Revenge is a pretty good film. It has severe credibility issues such as Jen surviving being pushed off a high cliff and impaling herself on a dead tree when she lands. Or her suddenly becoming an expert shot and hand to hand fighter, (under the influence of peyote no less). But that frequently comes with the genre.
The promised violence is most certainly delivered though. There are gallons of blood shed in Revenge much of it in cringe-inducing scenes such as broken glass being removed from the sole of a foot or a knife being removed from an eye socket.
As for all the buzz about how Revenge is such a shake-up of the genre? Sorry, not buying it at all. The biggest difference is the actual rape is mostly unseen. That and Richard spends more time nude, and is more explicitly so, than his victim. Big damn deal. At its heart, this is simply I Spit On Your Grave with wealthier characters, better effects, and much more stylish cinematography. The fact it’s directed by a woman shouldn’t be a big deal either, Doris Wishman and Roberta Findlay, among others, were doing this kind of film as far back as the 70s.
I’m also less than thrilled at the attempts at manipulating the viewer’s feelings before Richard’s buddies even arrive. For example, a scene where Jen lays alone in bed looking miserable while Richard calls his wife. Why should we feel bad for her? She knew he was married and still chose to be his mistress. It’s one of the things that come with having a sugar daddy. And if Richard is a scumbag for cheating on his wife, isn’t Jen just as bad for being with him?
Revenge is a slick, violent piece of filmmaking and is certainly enjoyable as such. But to claim it’s some kind of game changer is misleading hype that I’m sad to see so many people swallow.
Revenge is currently playing festivals including the Boston Underground Film Festival who were kind enough to hook me up with a screener.