I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
A young woman arrives with her wealthy older — married — boyfriend at his getaway house in the desert. (Where are they? It could be New Mexico. It could be South Africa. The film was shot in Morocco; it could be there, too.) She’s not a child, but she’s pretty Lolita-esque, right down to her coquettish deployment of a lollipop. Then Richard’s (Kevin Janssens) deeply creepy pals, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède), arrive days early for their planned hunting trip, and Jen (Matilda Lutz) proceeds to flirt outrageously with them. This is perhaps to demonstrate to the viewer that Jen is just a naive innocent who doesn’t realize the fire she is playing with; or perhaps it is to set her up as a stereotypical cocktease, the kind of young woman who exists more in fevered male fantasies than in reality, a kitten of a girl who knows exactly what she’s doing when she deliberately turns a man on only to turn him away.
It’s difficult to find too feminist a spin on what happens next, because French writer-director Coralie Fargeat, making her feature debut, lets her camera objectify Jen in a way that undermines any attempt to see Revenge as her protagonist’s attempt to reclaim control over her own body and her own life. After Jen is raped by Stan while Dimitri does nothing to stop it — an assault that, thank goodness, Fargeat does not depict as sexy — and then Richard takes their side in the most violent way possible, she embarks on a rage- and adrenaline-fueled hunt across the desert landscape to wipe them all out. And fair enough: if there is one overriding theme to Revenge, it is that men are gross and garbage and need to die, and it’s tough to say otherwise about these three.
Still. When Jen is doing her coquette/cocktease routine with Stan, and the movie looks upon her lasciviously, I thought: Okay, this is the movie trying to mislead the presumed-horny-male viewer into thinking this is going to be a different sort of story than it is. It is hoping to lull the viewer into a lusty daze before it says to him, Nuh-uh, she is not your toy. But then the movie gets Jen down to her underwear as she’s running around the desert trying to survive and plotting her vengeance. Fargeat fetishizes Jen’s terror and her bravery, turning it into something sexy in a way that is all about her nearly naked body. The camera is right up her ass on a regular basis when there is absolutely no in-context justification for it (not that there mostly ever really is), like that the camera is standing in for disgusting Stan checking her out. Nope: Fargeat is just allowing us to check her out. Her body is not her own here. It’s not a strong, capable tool for dishing out payback. It’s something for us to slobber all over.
As pure grindhouse exploitation, as undiluted righteous violence deployed for your grossout pleasure, Revenge satisfies. There will be so much blood, in one case more than you might imagine a single human body might contain. There will be horrendous woundings, lots of squishy fleshy body horror. There will be much pulp ridiculousness, starting with the unlikeness that Jen could even still be alive after what she is subjected to. It’s nowhere near as insane as it thinks it is, but Revenge is solid as action horror.
But Fargeat is a bit too sympathetic to the men’s pain, even as they don’t suffer anywhere near as much as they deserve to. And she doesn’t treat Jen with the respect that the entire story is about her savagely demanding. So let’s not mistake Revenge for feminist.