“Women always have to put up a fight!”
You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought the rape-revenge movie genre was outdated. Even the ‘classics’ of the genre (I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on The Left) seem in very poor taste in 2018, regardless of what merit they have. The more modern ‘torture porn’ sub-genre is an updated version of it – taking on the misogynist ideals of the rape-revenge film; revelling in extreme violence, almost exclusively towards women. But even that once popular DVT staple has become stale and unfashionable. What these genres needed was a reinvention. A film embracing the good, gory stuff from those genres without the misogyny. Revenge is that film.
It’s unfair to say that this hasn’t been tried before; Quentin Tarintino attempted a reinvention of the rape-revenge film with Kill Bill, but that was too idiosyncratic to have a lasting effect and really only inspired a slew of movies with extended dialogue scenes, extreme violence and funky music. Unlike Kill Bill, Revenge’s lack of overt metatextuality is what makes it more effective at reimaging the genre. The male gaze is turned on its head (the lions share of nudity is from Kevin Janssens Richard, Jen’s creepy and murderous boyfriend) as we watch our main character, Jen (Matilda Lutz), recover from a traumatic experience and go out to kick some ass. The traumatic experience in question is a rape, as it is in so many of the films Revenge is aping. Jen’s rejection of ‘nice guy‘ Stan (Vincent Colombe) leads to confrontation and sexual assault. But straight away Revenge differentiates itself from so many of the other films in this genre by actually making this as horrific as it should be. Unlike films of the past, this isn’t treated as one of the film’s guilty pleasure type moments. Director Coralie Fargeat does let us enjoy the gratuitous bloodshed and ridiculous violence; that’s what we watch these films for. But the sexual assault is horrific in an all too real way and isn’t lingered upon in the way an exploding head might be. And it’s not that the film doesn’t give both genders an equal share of the violence; Jen’s subsequent impalement upon a tree after being pushed off a cliff by her boyfriend and his two friends (to cover their asses) is shown in its gory splendour.
Fargeat tells this revenge story with the sort of over-the-top imagery that will make the essay writing of many a film studies student much easier. Hell, you don’t need a degree to see the metaphorical importance of Jen being almost killed on a giant phallic tree branch. Or the fact that the three men are all penetrated in some way. But while this type of easy to analyse imagery will turn any questionless audience member into a cut-price Pauline Kale, I’m actually ok with it. Not all films have to bury their subtext under three layers of pretention; sometimes it’s nice that we can all get a deeper understanding out of a film. Never mind the fact that Fargeat seems to be having a blast just telling this story. She gives it the required weight when needed but for the rest of it, she’s happy for her audience to just enjoy the carnage. The standout piece of ultra-violence see’s rapist Stan get a massive chunk of glass stuck in his foot and he spends an uncomfortable amount of time knuckle deep in his own sole, trying to yank it out. The combination of Colombe’s fantastic facial acting and the sickeningly realistic prosthetic foot meant that even I, a seasoned gore fan, was feeling a little queasy. And that’s just one scene of many – look out for a brutal eye related scene for similar nausea-inducing effects.
Director Coralie Fargeat debut feature film is a hypnotic thrill ride from start to finish. Fargeat manages to update the genre with some timely improved gender politics but without sacrificing the gloriously violent heart of the genre. The direction is frequently stunning and the Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack is very awesome, with both things elevating the film well above its schlocky b-movie peers. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes sickening, often both, Revenge is a blood-soaked statement that exploitation films are not stuck in the past and that director Coralie Fargeat and star Matilda Lutz are two people who definitely need to be on your radar.