While closer to the mainstream than some of the more extreme ends of horror, the “rape-revenge” sub-genre still has the ability to turn the stomachs of even the most hardened film watcher. By design, films that use rape as a narrative device leave you sick, angry and weeping for the state of humanity. And while the revenge part of the film is almost always equally as violent, there’s something so primitively horrible about the sexual assault that preceded it that no matter how satisfying the vengeance, it still leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.
Coralie Fargeat’s 2018 debut feature, Revenge, enters this most infamous of sub-genres and doesn’t just take aim at its tired and worn-out tropes; the film tries to inject something a little new to the mix. Mainly, taking away the sickly male gaze-centric camera and adding some unbelievable moments of hilarity and, quite ironically, balls-to-the-wall insanity.
READ MORE: Braindead – Movie Rewind
Jen (Matilda Lutz, Rings) has been helicoptered in to paradise, all set for a weekend away with her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens), miles away from civilisation so the pair can enjoy each other’s company completely undisturbed. That is, until Richard’s hunting buddies Dimitri and Stan (Guillaume Bouchède and Vincent Colombe) show up for the threesome’s annual hunting trip a day earlier than planned. No matter, drinks and dancing fill that night and fun is had all around.
The next morning, Stan takes advantage of Richard having gone out and, choosing to interpret her drunken dancing the previous night as a come on, forces himself on Jen. When Jen refuses his advances, with Dimitri looking on, Stan rapes his friend’s girlfriend. Refusing to comfort his girlfriend, Richard instead ignores her pleas to be taken home and hits her when she threatens to reveal their relationship to his wife. A chase ensues that ends in Jen being thrown off of a cliff and left for dead while the friends continue their hunting trip.
Miraculously, Jen survives the fall and begins a hunting trip of her own, chasing down the men that left her mortally wounded and bleeding all over the picturesque desert landscape that should have been the setting for a romantic weekend away.
Make no mistake, no matter how you wrap it up, Revenge is a rape-revenge film, and almost everything that defines the sub-genre is here. Most importantly for this film, however, is director Coralie Fargeat’s insistence that Jen not be made to be an object to be exploited, either by the audience or the men on screen. In fact, the often very graphic scenes that are the starting pistol for such films are purposely panned away from and it is left to the imagination of the viewer to fill in the gaps while the camera instead chooses to focus on the bystanders that let it happen. This doesn’t take away from the act itself, nor does it lessen the impact of what is happening to our hero, but it allows Jen to keep hold of a shred of her dignity and not have it handed to the audience for our entertainment.
Very early on, Jen’s quest for revenge takes a turn for the silly that sets the tone for the rest of the film. As the victim-cum-predator is portrayed to be near invincible, the young woman – who was purposely introduced as a Lolita type in her opening moments – is given free reign to exact her revenge on her assailants. She brings her redemption with such vigour and with an unflinching purpose, while still retaining her humanity, that Matilda Lutz rises above what would be considered the stereotypical character for this sub-genre and owns the fact that this show of strength would usually be embodied on-screen by men. No matter the film.
Ultimately, Jen’s revenge is sweet and justified. But in a genre that all too often slips clumsily into sexually charged exploitation of its subject in the name of faux-empowerment, Revenge stands out for not only refusing to bow to the tropes set out in front of it, but gleefully turns them on their heads and guts them.
This Blu-ray special edition release – courtesy of Second Sight Films, the team behind last year’s excellent In Bruges re-issue, incorporates a feast of newly created extra features for your viewing pleasure, including a fascinating new interview with Fargeat and Lutz, reminiscing on the film and its young but striking legacy. Second Sight also managed to get Diabolique Magazine editor (and Vinegar Syndrome/Scream Factory collaborator) Kat Ellinger to put down a splendid and informative audio commentary that is a joy to listen to while enjoying one of the best films from the last couple of years.
Overall, Revenge is a splendid 5/5 film all on its own, but with this excellent release in the Second Sight repertoire, the film has gone from excellent to must-have in the blink of an eye. This future classic has finally been given the release it deserves, and all horror, thriller and really all film fans, owe it to themselves to add this film to their library.
Revenge is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.