★★★ / ★★★★
Right from its opening minutes we are promised the work is going to be a revenge film with flavor. Take note of its generosity in employing kaleidoscopic colors designed to overpower the senses, eclectic music to get us into specific headspace, and numerous eye-catching environments so that even navigating one’s surroundings becomes a challenge especially when severely wounded. “Revenge” is written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, her first foray in helming a feature film. She should be proud of it because every second of the project is energetic, full of purpose, and packed with knowledge in terms of how the sub-genre works while at the same time striving to put her own stamp on it.
The woman destined to get her revenge is named Jen and she is played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Fargeat ensures that we appreciate the beautiful specimen from—first—a sexual point of view and—second—from the perspective of a survivor. Notice that during the first third, there are numerous close-ups of Lutz’ sun-kissed body, how the camera moves as if to caress her every curve. Her blonde hair falls freely, on her shoulders, down her back, or near her breasts and the locks dance as she turns her head suddenly or when the desert wind blows just so. Lutz is smart in deciding not to portray a typical dumb blonde, to make a joke of the character, even when Jen is being sexualized. And so when the story makes sudden dark turns, we believe that she is capable of a huntress’ ferocity.
Those to be hunted are three men (Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède) who left Jen for dead after she was raped. Assuming that she’d die after a long fall and being impaled by a branch through the abdomen, they neglect to consider the amount of fight she has left in her. The screenplay does an excellent job in making the viewers hate the men who wish to get away with rape and attempted murder. In revenge action-thrillers, we know exactly the order of the persons to get their comeuppance. The film offers no surprise in this instance nor does it really need to. Punishments simply need to be gory and satisfying.
And they are. Every confrontation is elaborate, suspenseful, thrilling, and cathartic. It’s funny because Jen often tries to go for the quick kill. But it appears as though fate intervenes each time so that Jen has the opportunity to maximize the level of pain, to humiliate them just as they humiliated her, before finally ending the lives of the disgusting monsters who did her wrong. Blood is shed on expensive carpets, body parts are torn off in the hot and humid desert, and there plenty of screaming from pain. Always wear shoes in the desert. I imagine that with enough word-of-mouth, the work has the potential to become a cult classic.
But “Revenge” is no cheesy action suspense-thriller where viewers get so distracted that they end up compiling a list of dumb moments. It may be criticized for a few questionable decisions, particularly in how Jen, for some reason, only tends to the open wound on her abdomen when clearly a branch had pierced her torso from the back. Given that Fargeat has a keen eye for detail, I believe this was done on purpose: to remind us that the material is meant to be a revenge fantasy first and foremost with an admixture of feminism.
Most curious for me, however, is how the writer-director employs close-ups, not just of the wince-inducing gaping wounds—which tickled and fascinated me—but also of animals that live in the desert, how they are treated by the presence of man in an already unforgiving environment. A spider drowns in man’s urine. An ant is assaulted by a rain of blood. I wondered if the filmmaker was trying to make a statement about man’s role in the rape of the natural world—admirable for a film made for adrenaline-fueled entertainment.