We’re back this week with yet another fiercely grotesque and super-stylish French film, “Revenge” (2017), the debut action-horror movie written and directed by Coralie Fargeat. Starring Matilda Lutz in a powerful performance as the dangerously sexy Jennifer, a rape survivor out for the blood of the big-game hunters who victimized her and left her for dead.
You don’t need to dread watching this one. Yes, there’s blood, and plenty of it. But while it follows many of the familiar tropes of the rape-revenge sub-genre this one brilliantly avoids most of the exploitation elements to be found in earlier iterations written and directed by men. Usually in previous versions of this story, viewers (presumably male) are titillated with scenes of a beautiful young woman as “shameless tease” being sexually assaulted before next being chastened for their enjoyment of the violent rape by being subjected to watching the male perpetrators’ brutal punishment at the hands of their victim.
While “Revenge” appropriates and plays with the male gaze during its opening scenes, it updates things for the #MeToo era. The film doesn’t fall into the typical traps when things start to get ugly. It artfully resists the temptation to show too much while still capturing the trauma of the rape via oblique camera angles and clever sound editing. While this scene and the subsequent ones where the men dismiss and dispense with Jen are emotionally upsetting, Fargeat manages to portray these men as believably awful without resorting to evil caricatures. Similarly, she lets the viewer know what’s happening at each step of the way but still stops short of making the viewer complicit.
During the gory second half of this movie, the body-horror influence of director David Cronenberg is on display in “Revenge,” though Fargeat doesn’t go in for quite the same sort of gross out scenes that we witnessed in “Raw.” This time around, the cringe-worthy moments create a sense of emotional and gender-reversing impact. Notice how the violent retribution enacted upon these hunters by their used and abused trophy girl tends repeatedly to penetrate and to feminize their own bodies. Here finally we see the graphic echoes of that unseen violence earlier perpetrated against Jen.
Be warned that the gruesomeness of later scenes in this film has been too much for some viewers, but “Revenge” definitely offers us some interesting new things to discuss in our continuing exploration of horror films written and directed by women.