Revenge Spins An Exploitation Subgenre on Its Head

The rape-revenge thriller has a controversial place within the larger horror genre. Films like The Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave courted controversy way back in the 1970’s. While both of these films have been remade in the last decade, critical attention on sexual violence in media has only intensified. Critically-acclaimed HBO show, Game of Thrones, has been frequently centered out for its graphic depictions of sexual violence.

Amidst these socio-cultural concerns, horror-streaming platform Shudder is releasing its latest original movie,  Revenge. The latest entry to the rape-revenge sub-genre, critics generally had good things to say about Revenge last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. In addition, Revenge is potentially distinguished from its predecessors by virtue of the fact that it is written and directed by a woman.

Synopsis

Jen is a young , intelligent, an beautiful woman. She also happens to be the mistress to married millionaire, Richard. The two secret lovers arrive via private helicopter to Richard’s desert’s house for a weekend together before his friends arrive for a hunting trip. To Richard’s disappointment, his friends – Dimitri and Stan – show up a day early. Following a night of drinking, Stan sexually assualts Jen . When Richard refuses to let her leave, Jen escapes but is cornered, pushed off a cliff, and left for dead. Miraculously surviving her fall, Jen turns the tables and begins hunting her tormentors.

Revenge is a Visually Stylish and Suspenseful Thriller

Director Coralie Fargeat deserves a lot of credit for distinguishing Revenge from similar films. Fargeat infuses her movie with an excess of of genuine visual flair and style. Each of the movie’s action scenes are well-choreographed and edited. There’s no shaky cam reducing the comprehensibility of what’s actually happening. In addition, Robrecht Heyvaert’s cinematography bathes the desert landscape in sun-bleached colours.

Despite working with a familiar narrative, Fargeat still manages to leave you wondering what and how things will transpire.

Horror fans will be pleased with the grindhouse gore in Revenge. A cauterization scene involving a cut-open beer can may have some viewers squirming uncomfortably. Despite working with a familiar narrative, Fargeat still manages to leave you wondering what and how things will transpire. A desert road showdown with Stan, for instance, introduced far more tension and doubts about the film’s conclusion that I would have anticipated. And the climatic ‘cat-and-mouse’ chase through Richard’s house offers a truly tense ending to Revenge that ought to prompt a lot of white-knuckling.

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A Powerful Subtext Among the Grindhouse Violence

In addition to infusing Revenge with some dazzling visuals and suspense, Fargeat works in an interesting subtext. Prior to the rape scene, Revenge almost plays out like your standard Hollywood ‘buddy’ sex comedy. The camera objectifies Lutz’s Jen, while Richard’s friends – Stan and Dimitri – could easily substitute for a Stifler-type character from the American Pie films.

In addition to infusing Revenge with some dazzling visuals and suspense, Fargeat works in an interesting subtext.

Fargeat’s handling of the actual sexual assault scene instantly distinguishes Revenge from films like Ms. 45 or I Spit on Your Grave. While the scene clearly establishes what is about to transpire, Fargeat does not focus on the act violence. Instead, she opts to show the reaction of Dimitri, Richard’s other friend, who is aware of what is happening but walks away. For a moment, the camera lingers on Dimitri as it appears he has some doubt before he turns on the television. The decision to focus on the ‘bystander’ and his apathy says a lot about the entitlement and misogynistic attitudes that contribute to sexual violence.

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Revenge Gives Its Female Protagonist Agency

Following the rape scene, Fargeat flips the buddy ‘fantasy’ narrative on its head. Revenge gives its female protagonist, Jen, agency.  In an interesting twist, Jen indulges in the male-oriented fantasies characteristic of so many action films. Some viewers will take issue with Jen’s inexplicable survival as well as the almost preternatural feats she performs.

Yet these aspects of Revenge are in keeping with its subtext. There’s not much different here from what you would find in a Rambo movie. In fact, Jen’s survival from the fall and the cauterization scene directly call back to scenes from First Blood and Rambo III. Arguably, it’s these parts of Revenge that elevate the movie to a form of criticism of the male entitlement and fantasy that fuels real-world sexual violence.

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Coralie Fargeat is a Filmmaker to Watch in the Future

Revenge is not a perfect movie. A few scenes would have benefited from some trimming in the editing room. With regards to criticisms of the rape-revenge subgenre, Revenge may still service an outdated and toxic narrative. But in the movie’s defence, Revenge uniquely spins this exploitation subgenre on its head while delivering a visually stunning overload of grindhouse gore. Matilda Lutz is outstanding in her restrained performance. Writer-director Coralie Fargeat also announces herself as a filmmaker to watch out for in the future.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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