BUFF 2018: REVENGE Is A Stylish Bloody Victory For Coralie Fargeat And Women Everywhere

The following film was seen courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival 2018.

In a final bloody showdown between a man and a woman – an abuser and his victim – the man haughtily spits out the line, “You just had to fight back. Women always have to fucking fight back.”

You’re goddamn right we do.

In the 2017 film Revenge, director Coralie Fargeat brings the rape-revenge narrative into French extremism through a lens rarely used for this type of story. It is brutal tale to say the least, but for someone like me who often finds a bit of cathartic power in these narratives, it is something that I was excited to see, especially since the director is a female. In Revenge, French millionaire Richard brings his young American mistress Jennifer (the gorgeous and powerful Matilda Lutz) to his remote desert home for a lover’s weekend. His two hunting friends, Stan and Dmitri, show up unexpectedly a day early and take an uncomfortable liking to Jen. This ultimately leads to Jen being assaulted by one, and left for dead by them all, when she returns anew to seek vengeance.  

Knowing what type of action is soon to come, the first part of the film is admittedly a bit icky to watch. Fargeat’s camera shows every inch of Jen’s nearly naked body, much of the time in closeup, as she walks around the house in her underwear or seductively dances with Stan by the pool. All this is the very definition of the male gaze, but I saw this choice as both a subversion of the cliché and a clever misdirection in the storytelling. Those scenes are shot that way because at this point the film is not yet fully from Jen’s perspective. Fargeat is presenting Jen to us exactly as the men see her, nothing more than a sexpot to be used to fulfill their own desires.

You can see the shift occur in the scene right before the assault, when Stan walks in on Jen while she is changing. He comes to her with his bruised male ego, asking her in not-so-subtle and demeaning ways why she doesn’t like him. It is very awkward (and maybe a little too familiar for some) to watch Jen try to carefully navigate the conversation. Though there is an overall lack of character development for Jen in the film, which is a bit of an issue, this is where she is the most relatable and most vulnerable. It’s like she could be any one of us in a similar situation, having her confidence and sense of self stripped away by a man trying to regain his masculinity. The rape scene itself is handled with remarkable care, though that does not make it any less horrible to see.

The three men in the story represent the several types of problematic attitudes that exist in situations of sexual assault. Stan is of course the rapist, the man who thinks he is owed sex from a woman just because she showed him the slightest bit of attention – the man who lashes out violently when rejected. Dmitri is the bystander, who sees the rape happening and has a chance to stop it yet chooses to remain uninvolved. Then there’s Richard, the betrayer. His solution for what Stan has done is to stick by his bro, and to selfishly offer Jen hush money so that she will not cause any problems for him. There is no concern from any of them about what Jen has been through. When they fail in killing her, they hunt her down through the desert like an animal, furthering the idea that they don’t see her as human.

Revenge is a film shot with the purpose to engage almost all your five senses to an extreme level. The darkness of the story is a stark contrast to the brilliantly saturated colors used throughout – from the characters’ costumes to the desert landscapes set against a bright blue sky. A majority of the scenes take place in the day, under the blazing sun of the barren outdoors, where you can feel the heat in the air and the hard rocks beneath the characters’ bare feet. Fargeat at many points makes wonderful use of extreme closeups, such as on Dmitri’s mouth as he is eating sweets, or the ants in the sand as they are being drowned in Jen’s blood. Each time, even these mundane shots are heightened by the unnaturally elevated audio of the action.

Perhaps the best sequence is the peyote dream scene while Jen is recuperating in a cave. I always enjoy seeing the sometimes funny and inventive ways that characters tend to their own wounds in horror films, and this is no exception. Jen uses a beer can to cauterize the gaping hole in her stomach, which leaves the image of an eagle emblazoned on her flesh. This, mixed with the weird visions from her peyote trip, serve as a renewal for her, as she emerges from the cave now looking like Linda Hamilton from T2, strapped with weapons and ready to carry out her revenge.

The first truly ghastly image in the film is that of Jen impaled on a broken tree after being thrown off a cliff, but things really only get worse from there in the gore department. Those extreme closeups come back into play to show each characters’ disgusting wounds in detail. The amount of blood spilled and the intensity of the action may seem unbelievable at times – it all even culminates in a somewhat farcical chase scene with shotguns. Yet that doesn’t mean that this is all not massively enjoyable to watch. This is what we have come to know and love from the French extremism, and Revenge delivers on that premise with every bullet shot and every knife wound to the eye.

Though Jen’s story of survival in Revenge is a harrowing ordeal to witness, it’s a refreshing new look at the rape-revenge film because it is so clearly from the female perspective. The final shot of the film should make every woman smile and every man very uneasy. Time’s up, boys – and yes, you better believe that we will fight back.