Revenge is a film in two parts – a hyper-saturated nightmare followed by a bleached and ultraviolent fever dream. Its politics are straightforwardly progressive and its rage deeply felt. What it lacks in substance it largely accounts for in style, and certainly in venom.
Jen (Matilda Lutz) is an apparently callow young woman, the beautiful consort to the slimy Richard (Kevin Janssens) in an anonymous desert getaway. His two-facedness is hinted at by the ease with which he lies to his wife by telephone, but is confirmed when two friends of his crash the party. Vincent Colombe is Stan, and Guillaume Bouchède Dimitri – a pair of unsettling hunters who quickly identify Jen as potential quarry.
Stan rapes Jen, perceiving sexual injustice, and is allowed to do so by Dimitri; Richard returns to attempt to bury the issue, and Jen’s attempts to flee lead to another shocking violation, leaving her stranded and left for dead in a wasteland of dust and rocks. These crimes are, interestingly, not examined in any great psychological depth – the mental trauma of their consequences is not the issue at hand.
Instead, debutant writer-director Coralie Fargeat is focussed entirely on the titular endgame of Jen’s ordeal: her revenge. From minute one, she scores deliberate points through her visual style and attention. Before Jen is forced into the desert, the camera ogles her body at every opportunity, exactly as so many Hollywood films (horror or otherwise) typically would. Male characters objectify her and violate her agency even before actual criminal acts, and of course escalate this pattern into unforgivable territory.
Jen’s growth and rebirth, with deliberate echoes of phoenix imagery in one of many stomach-churning moments, is demonstrated not just by her actions onscreen, but by the screen’s very portrayal of her. By the closing moments, her revealing outfit and once-obvious beauty are just as present, but no longer lingered over and letched upon by the camera. She is treated like a character, not a trope, and the extreme vulnerability that she has suffered is transferred to a naked and wounded male. This is by no means subtle technically, but is impressively impactful – as much a failure by the majority of films as a success on Fargeat’s part, perhaps.
Alongside this interwoven political progression, the actual meat of Revenge progresses with fleshy abandon, gore aplenty and winces induced constantly. This is a film of violence inflicted and suffered, and it shies from almost nothing. It is a shame that, in its less sensible moments, the plotting tends towards the ridiculous – genre movies may follow odd conventions, but it’s frustrating to watch geographies that don’t make sense, timelines that plainly don’t add up, and preposterous outcomes. This is heightened by the sense that Fargeat and her team certainly have the capacity to have avoided such slip-ups.
Nonetheless they summon so many arresting moments that it is hard to criticise their efforts too much. From an ant obliterated by meteoric showers of blood to spiders sadistically drowned, head-bursting drug trips to blood-drenched nudity, Revenge is a film of extreme imagery. It does quite precisely what it says on the tin, but with a devilish wit and targeted cruelty.