Ever since it hit a few festivals in 2017, Revenge created an unreal buzz around itself. When Shutter and Amazon Prime finally released it straight to video, the movie got even more praise to the point it became the most critically acclaimed rape and revenge flick of all time (!)
Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, this French horror thriller tells the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz, Rings), a gorgeous American girl who gets raped, survives her assailants and seeks revenge (well, it’s the same story as 99% of these types of movies).
Revenge features a few interesting aspects that are probably worth praising (or at least acknowledging). First and foremost, this is one of the few ‘rape and revenge’ movies that doesn’t belong in the exploitation subgenre of horror – more on this later.
Secondly, the film looks gorgeous. It’s by far one of the most colourful horror movies I’ve ever seen: as opposed to the grainy look typical of films that centre around these themes, Revenge is extremely polished and neat. Besides, the camera-work feels original and well-thought, with loads of stylised shots and takes, a recurring search of composition and neat framing, no shaky nor obtrusive camera movements. The cinematography is also outstanding: other than Annihilation and The Lodgers, Revenge is the best-looking horror movie of the year (so far) partly because photographer and cinematographer did a fantastic job, partly since the locations allow the movie to look great.
The gore effects, all of which are practical, are outstandingly crafted and shown in their full glory. In combination with the bright colours, these effects can be full-front experienced by the audience, with the filmmakers never shying away from them.
Now, to explain my (many) complaints with Revenge, I need to venture into spoilers’ territory, which means you can either skip the next paragraphs and go to my final grade, or stop reading here if you don’t want the movie to be spoiled. One last warning: my criticism is going to be harsh!
SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS
The twist that Mrs Fargeat gives to the movie is that the rape scene is off-screen: it’s implied, not shown, unlike we experienced in movies like The Last House on the Left (1974), The House on the Edge of the Park (1980), I Spit on your Grave new trilogy and so on.
My main issue with Revenge is that said directorial choice, in combination with the polished and stylised look of the movie, takes away all the tension and disturbing aspects ‘rape and revenge’ movies are known for. By implying certain scenes, that otherwise would have been brutal, the movie becomes tame, generic and little effective.
Yet, the brutality isn’t the only thing that’s negatively affected by this questionable decision: the realism suffers a lot too. We see characters losing more blood than the amount a human being has in their body and yet, these people still fight like it’s nothing. Per se, this unrealistic approach can be overlooked. However, I can get past it in slashers or creature-features, where realism is the last aspect to look for; a ‘rape and revenge’ flick should have its roots in the realism in order to be disturbing and effective.
The reason why Coralie Fargeat decided not to show the rape was to make an exploitation flick from the perspective of a woman, thus critics assumed Revenge was a great movie because it works as a ‘feminist rape and revenge flick’. Now, I consider myself a feminist and I love when horror movies have social commentary… but let’s not forget there needs to a good film in order to powerfully deliver an idea: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970, about sexual awakening), Pulse (2001, about the dark side of the internet), Cannibal (2006, about homosexuality), Let the Right One In (2008, about bullying) and Get Out (2017, about racism), just to mention a few, work because they’re great films that happen to touch important and critical subjects. If you try to push an agenda and you do it in an obnoxiously in-your-face way, your movie just becomes annoying.
The decision to not include (visually) the rape scene brought with itself many despicable consequences in terms of how Revenge played out: first, you don’t feel sorry for Jen’s character. Unlike Jennifer in I Spit on Your Grave (my personal favourite rape and revenge movie), who must endure rape, violence and humiliation for 20 minutes of the movie, you don’t know how much Jen suffered, therefore you are only slightly enthralled in her search of revenge. ‘Rape and revenge’ movies need to make the audience feel sick to their stomach and disturbed, whereas with Revenge I was just mildly interested in seeing how good the gore effects were: I didn’t care for Jen’s story at all.
Besides, if the rape aspect is disappointing, so it will be the revenge part. In fact, the revenge in Revenge (sorry about the unintentional pun) is one of the most underwhelming I’ve seen in such movies: there’s no tension, no brutality, no creativity to it! It’s rather tame. Furthermore, Matilda Lutz doesn’t fit the role whatsoever: she’s not innocent enough to care for her when she gets sexually assaulted and she’s not badass enough to buy into her vendetta.
Also, for a ‘feminist’ movie, Revenge lingers constantly on Jen’s butt… so, you’re telling me it’s exploitative to show a simulated rape scene but it’s very progressive to constantly frame the butt of a girl who just got raped? Are you fucking kidding me?!
Now, I get that critics are being tricked by the social message the movie tries to deliver (and fails to deliver, in my opinion), but the only reason that would explain why Revenge got so many praises is that people who reviewed it didn’t watch any exploitation films nor have any idea about what the subgenre is all about.
Ultimately this movie is an average thriller, filled with beautiful shots and a decent amount of gore. However, if you’re a fan of exploitation cinema (like myself) you’re most likely going to hate or at least be disappointed by this tame, self-apologetic and average flick.
I must say that most of you will most likely enjoy it regardless, so don’t let me stop you from checking it out… but please bear in mind my complaints if you do, because I think they’re quite objective.
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My review is also available on IMDb – Revenge