“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Revenge

REVENGE (the 2018 release with the pink logo, not the Kevin Costner/Tony Scott one) is a great rape-revenge movie. Not a subversive one in my opinion, just a really good version of the form that goes mercifully light on the first r-word and entertainingly extravagant on the second. Obviously the very idea of the genre is upsetting, but as far as these things go, it’s a fun time. It has no interest in gritty realism or wiping your nose in the shit. It’s not even about any “dig two graves” or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT don’t-stoop-to-their-level anti-revenge moralism. It has alot of symbolism and poetic exaggeration and exists in a world where human bodies have an impressive capacity for withstanding severe injuries and extreme blood loss.

(NOTE: If this sounds like something you can dig, I suggest seeing it and not reading the rest of this review yet, because I will be using SPOILERS to discuss alot of what I find most interesting in it.)

It’s the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz, RINGS), a young… I guess “sexpot” is one word people would’ve used for her not long ago, who is the younger mistress of a rich dude named Richard (Kevin Janssens, THE ARDENNES). He takes her out in a helicopter to his cool little isolated vacation villa in the middle of a desert, and they have sex and hang out by the pool and relax. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and there’s a refrigerator full of champagne and some peyote for later. The furnishings are sparse and hip and I don’t know what it means that two of the panes of glass are violet and green like old school 3D glasses, but I like it.

Then, unexpectedly, two dudes show up at the glass door while she’s listening to her iPod with no pants on. Richard’s buddies Stanley (Vincent Colombe, POINT BLANK [2010]) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede) are a couple days early for the boys’ hunting trip. They clearly didn’t know he was having an affair, but they’re charmed by Jen and hang out and flirt and what the hell, she’s with Richard so what harm is there in strutting it and enjoying the attention of older men while she’s on this getaway on her way to a new life in L.A. where she hopes “to be noticed.”

It’s seductively stylish, with  a cool electronic score by Rob – not just some dude named Rob, but the one that did the remake of MANIAC – and cinematography by somebody named Robrecht Heyvaert. It has a male gaze, and it also gazes right back at that gaze. We see Richard and the pilot sharing a look at Jen’s ass when she walks away from the helicopter. We see Stan and Dimitri watch her ass journey down the hall away from them. First time feature director/writer/co-editor Coralie Fargeat (please picture the director pulling up on a motorcycle, removing her helmet and whipping out her long hair to reveal that that’s right, a lady can direct a rape-revenge movie) will turn the tables later, showing more (and more degrading) male nudity than female, but for now her approach isn’t drastically different from what you’d expect from a very good male director.

The nightmare starts while Richard is out of the villa, and Stan decides that her dancing with him the night before was a sex invite. She tries to brush him off politely but he turns out to be that very familiar type of misogynist bastard who is friendly until he learns that sex is out of the question and all the sudden he’s a cruel weirdo who believes he’s been wronged and must aggressively confront her about it. And worse.

More surprising than his assault are the reactions of the other two men. Dimitri walks in on it and has an opportunity to intervene – then he he steps out and turns up the TV to drown out her screams. You’re not sure at first if he’s just too much of a coward to stand up to his friend or what. And then Richard, rather than protecting her or even making Stan leave tells her “I fixed everything,” just meaning he’s gonna pay her off to not say anything and go live in Canada. And when she correctly refuses this offer to control her destiny he pushes her off a cliff.

Man does it seem like she should be dead. She doesn’t hit the ground because she gets fully impaled on a tree. She looks crucified. Fargeat is much more interested in cool than real. And it would be cool for her to be able to lift herself up off of that thing, but it’s more cool that she uses her earbuds to lasso her lighter and set some brush on fire and burn the tree to make it split. I’ve definitely never seen that move in a movie before.

It’s pretty light on dialogue, but the imagery says so much. Destroying the evidence of their crime, the men burn her “I ♥ L.A.” t-shirt, the embodiment of her dreams. They get suited up in their tactical asshole gear – camo, leather, scarves, Dimitri wearing a shirt that says “U.S. Navy” even though he’s French – and get on a motorcycle, a 4-wheeler, a Jeep. When they go to collect Jen’s body they just see the scorched earth where the tree was, and it struck me that she has been reborn from the ashes like a phoenix. Fargeat makes the comparison more explicit in the medically implausible but cinematically outstanding scene where she tends to her stomach wound by branding it with a beer can which (I was so hoping this would happen) burns its phoneix-like bird logo onto her flesh.

But it’s a while before she does that, which also made me happy, because it has long bothered me that in movies people always remove the things they’ve been impaled with, when it is my understanding that you should leave them in to prevent blood loss. So hats off to Jen the Phoenix for trekking the desert and doing battle with a piece of wood sticking out of her. I think in this case it’s also symbolic, because she has been forcefully penetrated by this phallic object, which she then broke off and it became her own phallus as she went after the motherfuckers who put her here. And by the climax she’ll be chasing down a guy with a wound in the same area that could fairly be described as vaginal. Is it too much to wish that she still had the stick at that point and she penetrated his wound with it? Yes, I think that is too much. Apologies, everyone.

Jen uses the peyote to help with the pain, but the psychedelia doesn’t ramp up as much as you might expect. The perspective of the camera has already put us into a heightened state of awareness. Early on it focuses on an apple with no literal significance, but later we draw the parallel that Jen stuck on that tree is like an apple with a bite taken out of it, left on the counter for its exposed flesh to turn brown, to be discovered by ants. In the desert an ant dodges Jen’s blood drops, falling nearby with the force of bombs. Through editing we see a similarity between Stan and a tongue-flicking lizard.

These disgusting men will try to kill Jen to hide their crimes, and she will strike back. She never abandons her dangly pink star-outline earrings – to me a signifier of her Hollywood aspirations – but otherwise she transforms like Johns McClane and Rambo, her hair, skin and clothes darkened by dirt and blood, her hips carrying salvaged weapons, her skimpy pool party outfit recontextualizing as non-confining warrior gear. She intuits how to fire giant guns (even if the recoil is a bitch) and I love the image of her finger on the trigger, highlighted with a few remaining flecks of neon pink fingernail polish, remnants of a different life less than 24 hours ago..

Of course this must all lead to a conclusive showdown between Jen and final boss Richard back at the villa. While she has morphed from shiny party girl to furious force of nature, world’s worst sugar daddy has de-evolved. I swear at the beginning he looks like a handsome dreamboat, clearly the hot guy among the trio, but after his turn he starts seeming more like a Christophe Waltz type, and in the climax he’s literally naked and pathetic, wounded, crawling on the floor with his ass in the air, his little dick hanging out. The filmatism turns him into the victim in a slasher movie – he gets the ever present post-PSYCHO trope of taking a shower and then hearing a noise and having to check around the house feeling scared and vulnerable. Of course, he keeps a shotgun leaning up against the bathroom wall.

One of many great touches: to survive a serious stomach wound he wraps himself tightly with Reynold’s wrap.

I really wanted to see REVENGE after great buzz from film festivals and a limited arthouse/VOD type release but I’ve finally got to it now that it’s on disc. Whether or not it counts as a horror movie is up to your definition, but it’s distributed by Shudder and clearly in a tradition that includes famous drive-in hits like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. When something like that gets hyped up in the non-horror – let’s call it secular – crowd I can be unnecessarily sensitive about whether critics or (worse) the filmatists try to distance it from the genre. Especially in a case like this where the movie has been interpreted as feminist with a possible inference that all other movies of its type are the opposite.

Luckily I had been saving Fargeat’s episodes of Post Mortem and The Q&A to listen to, and both are enlightening. She says she didn’t watch any rape-revenge movies other than LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which she says nothing further about. Instead she mentions as influences KILL BILL, Mad Max, Rambo, and DUEL. She says she wanted to do a story about a character who seems weak but transforms herself, and exists in a “metaphorical world bigger than the story itself.” Mission accomplished! She repeatedly references the tone of South Korean cinema and Tarantino, which makes alot of sense to me.

When she says MAD MAX and RAMBO I don’t think she means the specific movies with those titles, but she repeatedly references the look of the desert in FURY ROAD and the character of Rambo. FIRST BLOOD seems to me like the RAMBO this has the most in common with.

I also thought wow, this is a really promising new director, now everybody’s gonna mention her every time there’s a super hero or a Star War that needs helming, and she probly has no interest in that shit. It’s true, her plans are to continue with envelope-pushing fringe movies, which I’d rather see her do than a Hollywood gig. But she does talk about loving movies after growing up playing with STAR WARS toys, and even mentions loving WILLOW! So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Lucasfilm hit her up some day.

REVENGE is now officially in contention for my favorite movie of the year. I feel a little weird saying that because I know there are plenty of people I would never recommend it to. It reminds me a little bit of movies like WOLF CREEK and I SAW THE DEVIL that have such intoxicatingly good filmmaking that I can kind of think of them as a fun time and forget that they’re incredibly dark and morbid and that plenty of reasonable people would think I was a sick for saying that.

But this one is more inspirational and has more of a… can I call it a happy ending? I don’t know. I’m sorry. But I loved it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018 at 10:46 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Revenge”

  1. I had read good reviews, but this was still even better than expected. So thrilling, and the filmmaking is so accomplished. I like Last House on the Left, but this makes that look like a home movie.

  2. This is a great review to read, thanks Vern. – I’ve found a lot of the discussion around this film kind of annoying, like people saying “oh it’s not subversive… it doesn’t do anything X, Y, Z rape revenge flick did in 1973” and, like, sure, but it feels like that discussion is more about proving who the films buffs are than anything else. It is a take i’ve seen to the moon and back on letterboxd and twitter, but it tells me absolutely nothing about what this film is doing and saying. (I’m not talking about this review to be clear).

    Filmmaking comes in cycles to a degree. Different eras have their own perspectives, but I don’t think there’s anything a filmmaker can say now that someone with talent couldn’t have said in the 1970s, or heck even the 1930s. A lot of the pre-code movies subvert basically anything you could want to see subverted if you seek them out. People say this movie isn’t treading new ground cos of what someone put out in the 70s, but people back then were likely saying the same thing and referring to the generation prior. I think something people who watch a lot of movies can lose sight of in the conversation around films is how few people are actively seeking out and watching films that pre-date their own lifespans. So every generation gets their own subversive movies. But they’re gonna be subverting the last 10, 15 years, not the tropes from 40 years ago. That’s my take anyway.

    I’d peg this as subversive myself on that basis, not cos its in conversation with the rape revenge genre but because the colour palette is so Michael Bay, as are the character introductions with the sunglasses and copter is pretty much Platonic Bay, and the lead herself initially feels like a Bay heroine – tho heroine is probably too grand a term for the treatment he gives them. CF subverts the expectation you’d have going in blind because she pushes that character into a place you wouldn’t expect if your main point of reference is the last 15 years of mainstream western action filmmaking. I’m probably going on a tangent here but yeah, I hope people see what I mean here. She made a film that tackles a misogynist subject matter and the style she settled on to do so initially apes a filmmaker that I think you see used as a by-word for misogyny himself more than anyone else, and comes out with something pretty warped and interesting.

  3. I didn’t know that this came out so late over on your side of the ocean, so I’ve been trying to plug it for months. I love this movie, but not in a creepy way. This is good film making. Dare I call it a feelgood revenge movie?

  4. I hate to be that guy who shits on everybody’s favorite movie, but this one lost me as soon as the actual revenge part started. After the turning point the film got too carried away with ham-fisted symbolism and cartoonish gore to deliver any visceral thrills.

  5. I take it not many have seen (or heard about) this. You really should check it out. Don’t listen to Krautsalat. It’s a good little movie.

  6. I dug this one, not as much as other people, but I think for largely idiosyncratic reasons as you may find out below.

    Having just watched LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, since it’s on FilmStruck, I’m struggling with the film styles comparison atm, but maybe I’m off base having only both seen both for the first time recently. LHOTL–somewhat by necessity since it’s before steadicam and low budget–is almost entirely handheld and documentary style. This movie also presents the action in a more suspenseful, kind of actiony way, whereas that movie is more chase oriented with its suspense and then wild cuts of violence that deliberately avoid seeming choreographed at least in presentation (compare the two climaxes, for example). It’s also got far more closeups and there’s not as much emphasis on the geography and terrain (to the point where characters regularly teleport into frame and situations and you wonder how that all coheres; this movie, by comparison, has clearer geography.) Genre, elements, and thematically? Absolutely I can see the parallels. Especially since there is some “she’s a flirtuous party-girl EDM type girl” vibe to Jen’s character and how she dresses and behaves, which culturally is similar to the late 60s/early 70s free love type stuff with her sexuality very much at the forefront of how she presents herself. The police are also more outright shown as incompetent, whereas in this one they are absent.

    I did like how there was some continuity with her bad back burns and her getting out from under the cliff. I guess presumably her plan was that by burning the tree, it’d structurally weaken and break off, letting her fall. OF course, her hair probably would’ve caught on fire and she’d still need to remove the end that’s also jutting out of her back, but hey, you gotta let some things slide. That’s ultimately no less believable than her doing a sit up to get off and cauterizing with the lighter or whatever.

    I briefly considered whether the fat guy was a coward or some sort of shade of grey vs. an outright bad guy. Then I quickly decided he was meant to be bad, as evidenced by those shots of him eating at key points, as well as how he did things later on.

    Minor complaints
    -Jen needed shoes. No, even more selling of feet damage wouldn’t have worked. This isn’t John McClane on a skyscraper. At points, she outran these guys on rocky terrain when they had shoes and she didn’t. I don’t know if I’d buy that even from a female olympian. It’s also kind of amusing since feet ends up being the downfall of the bearded fuck. I’m guessing that for exploitation reasons they decided against Jen having any toe covering footwear before she bolted.
    -Richard seemed underwhelming by comparison to Jen. Maybe I’ve got an anti-ginger bias. Yet, on the other hand, I don’t think very thin blonde models are that hot either–though large chunks of society seem to, which this movie exploits, but I don’t think the same thing is true of red headed men and that seems to be point. He’s also clearly at least a decade older than her, which raises some questions though I’m unsure how intentional that was as the casting seems the only allusion possible to it along with maybe how Richard thinks he can easily buy her off. But hey, on the other hand, what do I know. I’m a straight man. Maybe lots of women think this guy looks great. If not for all the gazing on him, and then gazing at his shrinking gentilia and masulinity along with it (along with trying to substitute a rifle), and some shots where the guys gazing on Jen are clearly portrayed as creepers, I’d definitely have thought this was 100% from a male director.

  7. Stacy Livitsanis

    August 10th, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Loved this movie. Some comments I’ve read that it’s a zeitgeist-tapping revelation and that it’s “the movie we need right now” (ugh) are patently hyperbolic, but you can’t argue with a gut reaction. When it finished I felt the kind of full satisfaction only a bloody good movie can deliver. Movies can indulge all sorts of whims and fancies, including ones you might not even have known you had until you saw them in a movie. Revenge generously stroked and stoked my movie-based misandrist sadism. That foot gash scene was enough to have me levitating out of the chair. That kind of violence, of intimate pain, is more GRANRGRGH!!-inducing than something like exploding heads, which always come off in movies as cartoonish. The palpable, visceral impact of the practical effects was a welcome jolt out of the numbness of CG blood and gore.

    Agree with Steven here that loftily pontificating about older movies dealing with similar themes so this one isn’t really worth considering is a pissing contest I’ve no time for. If people are saying that movies in the 70’s were doing the same thing as Revenge, in what way does that invalidate this movie? Hey, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN basically dealt with #metoo and social media activism over thirty years ago, so why keep going on about those things?

    The tedious misogynist responses to Revenge glimpsed in some unsavory quarters reminds me of Danny Peary’s account of the incredible rape-revenge film Ms.45. From his 1983 book Cult Movies 2: “The legendary 42nd street theatres had so deteriorated that with the exception of diehard movie buffs the only people who dared enter the darkness were pimps, pushers, alcoholics and assorted degenerates who wanted to get off their feet or elude the police for a couple of hours. When not yelling at each other, the men excitedly talked back to the screen, cheering brutality and, misogynists all, directing lewd comments at every female character. Predictably, when Thana is being raped at the beginning of Ms. 45 an unsympathetic soul cackled “How does it feel, baby?” I would guess that the feminists who attacked this film were angry with the male filmmakers for filming these rape scenes in such a way, with a gun in the frame, that violent men would want to identify with the rapist. But something fascinating happens. Once the men identify with the rapist, the filmmakers have Thana chop him up into little slabs and store his parts in the refrigerator. Unexpectedly, the men who had whooped all through Amin: The Rise and Fall and the obscenely gory previews of Dr. Butcher, whimpered worrisomely, “Oh my god!” and slumped in their seats and shut up. Never has a 42nd street theatre been so quiet and disciplined as when Thana went through her rounds and murdered every offensive male who crossed her path.”

    If you want more, I thought this was a spot-on solid analysis of Revenge through a feminist lens:

    Hard Femme

    When first we see Jen, the heroine of Coralie Fargeat's blood-soaked rape/revenge fantasy, Revenge (2017), she's the very picture of a sex...

  8. This one was excellent as a bare bones revenge thriller, full stop. The copy on the back of the Blu-ray really goes overboard with how subversive and deconstructing the whole thing was, and initially I was worried about what that meant. Often, “subversion” is code for “Unsatisfying climax that thinks it’s being really deep by not completing the story in a cathartic manner” or “I haven’t actually seen very much of this genre but I have a general idea of how they go and mine is TOTALLY different I’m sure.” But this wasn’t any of that. It’s just some marketing geniuses latching onto a zeitgeist, and if that gets more eyeballs on an unfairly maligned genre, then so be it. Maybe some knee-jerk haters will be inspired to go back and discover MS. 45 and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and other movies that show that exploitation cinema has always been a place where transgression and subversion can be explored safely.

    So while REVENGE is no more feminist a rape-revenge thriller than, say, FAIR GAME (the Australian one, not Cindy Crawford one), it delivers the goods on a reliable template with style and passion, which is even better. I’ll always take an honest genre workout over some academic Hanekean decontextualization that’s so clever it talks itself out of being a story the audience is allowed to feel anything about. I kept waiting for this one to get heavy-handed, and it never did. It’s got just the right touch. It knows a solid gut punch delivers a message more effectively than a satire of a gut punch.

  9. I would call this a feminist thriller. Director Fargeat has chosen to show us what happens when a…excuse the expression…”bimbo” wakes up to what kind of world she really lives in. She has played the game for a while, and suddenly she realizes what creepes men are. You don’t get more political than that. Sure, it’s mostly bloody entertainment. But there is a underlying theme here.

  10. I don’t think anyone is saying it’s not feminist. It is definitely feminist. There’s no question about that. But so is, like, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (a.k.a. DAY OF THE WONMAN). Feminism is baked into this particular subgenre in many (if not most) cases, but the internet does not seem to be aware of that so it thinks REVENGE is some bold new take on the material. I don’t think anybody here is holding that against the movie, though.

  11. No, and just adding to that I think it’s nice to see a director in this genre who doesn’t feel the need to make the rape longer than the revenge.

  12. I agree these movies often get the balance wrong. They want to brutalize the audience with the rape but a lot of times it’s a case of diminishing returns. You either get desensitized or it takes you out of the movie if it goes on too long. You don’t want to understate the horror of the event but you don’t want to linger on it either. I think the way REVENGE handles it is just about right. The horror comes more from how banal, believable and (sadly) common the rapist’s entitlement and descent into violence is portrayed, not in all the grunting and thrusting.

    But then again I feel that ISOYG’s master stroke is when the rapists come back for more. It’s that last twist of the knife that makes the film so punishing and relentless, that puts the audience (with the exception of the perverts Ebert saw it with) firmly in the perspective of the victim. It’s a truly harrowing piece of work with no cinematic niceties to make it palatable. But that’s been done to death since then so I don’t think there’s a lot of point to extended rape scenes besides pure salaciousness anymore. At least not in a movie that claims to be a work of entertainment.

  13. With the uncut version of DEATH WISH 2 as perhaps the worst example.

  14. I can’t really explain why I didn’t like this one more. I actually can’t blame the hype machine, because I didn’t really hear much about it except people liked it (I didn’t even know it was directed by a woman but I sorta assumed that since I think people would be really pissed off if this was directed by a man). But yeah, I was totally one of those douchey guys that steven describes, since I think the first thing I said after it was over was “I Spit On Your Grave had alot more to chew on and that was back in ’78!” I mean, there’s no denying that Revenge is a better made, more entertaining and better-acted film than ISOYG. But the weird touches of ISOYG, maybe even the “plot holes”/”flaws” keep me still thinking about that one. “Why did she actually let some of them have sex with her again instead of just killing them?” “What was with the weird order in which she killed the guys?”, etc…. Revenge doesn’t really have any ambiguity or lingering questions (other than maybe thinking there’s a Crow-like supernatural resurrection thing going on) – what you see is what you get, which in 99% of movies should be enough. I can’t explain why it wasn’t here.

    I mean, I’m a giant fan of Lady Bloodfight – it’s solid, exciting meat-and-potatoes genre filmmaking, and if people kept complaining it was “just” a tournament fighter and should have been more “subversive”, I’d tell them to get lost. So why am I holding Revenge to a higher standard? Must rape-revenge movies constantly need to be subversive or have some new gimmick to prove their worth/existence? Shouldn’t Revenge’s “gimmick” of gorgeous cinematography and incredibly over-the-top violence count? Maybe Revenge is just a movie I’m going to have to learn to love.

  15. Neal, I’ve been enjoying your comments on this and the DEATH WISHes and stuff. I’m sorry the recent comments thing is still broken, but since I usually read them through the back end I see everything on the old reviews.

  16. I concur, I greatly enjoy your comments on the older titles neal. I try to reply when I can to let you know. The RSS feed for the comments is a life save in that regard.

  17. Vern and/or geoffreyjar, where can I find the RSS feed for the comments? Thanks, bud(s).

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