Revenge: A Psychedelic, Candy-Colored, Blood-Spattered Ride
by Ben Martin
A couple of times in my life, I’ve been referred to as a ”Movie snob” by friends of mine who are casual moviegoers. However, I maintain that I’m not and the reason for that is simple. I love an entertaining B movie; always have, always will. My favorite branch of this cheesy cinema is exploitation/“grindhouse” films. In case you’re unfamiliar, exploitation flicks play up sex and violence for the purposes of genre, usually of the action or horror variety. Grindhouse movies are a subgenre which has spawned many other subgenres. While most of these flicks are fun, there is one explanation movie subgenre that utilizes shock more so than it does entertainment.
Commonly known as “The Rape-Revenge” genre, this ilk of B movie is a hard pill for many to swallow, and understandably so. These types of films, even if done well, present a tricky proposition to the audience. First, these movies shock us with acts so heinous perpetrated by villains, to the point we want blood. Then, in the “Revenge” half of these flicks, we get the blood! The problem, of course, is that chunks of this movies usually concern women being sexually assaulted, often in graphic fashion. Such is the issue with this subgenre in that it entirely breaks its protagonist before empowering them and satisfying the bloodlust. It’s for this reason that many pictures of this type often claim to be narratives of female empowerment. Not surprisingly, many folks reject such a notion; while other viewers bask in the glory of female vengeance.
No matter which camp you fall into on this subgenre, I get it. Some of these films are merely about schlock-shock value. A prime example of which is the late Wes Craven’s 1972 debut, The Last House on the Left. Slight spoiler here, in Last House, other characters get to unleash wrath on the villains; not the characters who were assaulted. Hence, a lack of female empowerment. On the other hand, there is the other subgenre classic: I Spit on Your Grave (a.k.a. Day of the Woman) (1978). Unlike its predecessor, Spit serves as the first female-empowerment revenge picture. Alas, it is also a movie that goes overboard with the acts of assault. Making the viewer endure around 15 continuous minutes of sexual violence.
Those two staples of this type of movie aside, rape-revenge pictures have proven to be a tired subgenre. However, the new film from French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat illustrates that the subgenre in question still has some gas in its tank. Revenge tells the story of an L.A. girl named Jen (Matilda Lutz) who is spending the weekend in the desert with her boyfriend, Richard (Kevin Janssens). The problem is that Richard is also a married man. A married man whose buddies, Stan (Vincent Colombre) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchéde) show up early for their annual hunting trip. From there, things quickly spiral out of control after Jen assaulted and left for dead. Now, the hunters will become the prey as Jen seeks bloody vengeance on all of them.
Admittedly Revenge does not break the mold with its narrative. However, the movie does do just that in the execution of the said story. First and foremost, this flick is perhaps the only one of its subgenre that is artistic. Even though Revenge is the first work of Fargeat’s that I’ve seen, it’s clear that she is a skilled and inventive filmmaker. As opposed to making Revenge dependent on shock value, Fargeat depends on the story’s unfolding to deliver the thrills. For example, the assault that sets off the last two-thirds of the picture is not graphically depicted. To the contrary, it’s shown but primarily implied. Thus, we the audience aren’t tortured along with the character of Jen. However, it does allow you to become invested in and focus on her titular Revenge.
Once that happens, the fun really starts! As Jen dispenses her vengeance, we’re treated to a violent, visual feast. Every act of violence and drop of blood is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (Snowfall). Also, the action set-pieces are all quite inspired; including a scene that gives the glass scene in Die Hard (1988) a run for its money. In addition to being well-made and exciting, this movie is cast perfectly. Not that these are exceptionally deep characters, mind you, but they are who they need to be.
Now, Revenge is not a perfect film. While it moves along pretty briskly, there are times when I can feel the pacing. It should also be noted that the movie’s a bit of a metaphor for gender inequality. While I commend the picture working on that level, it does so in a heavy-handed fashion. I would have preferred a more subtle approach to such issues.
If you’re a fan of exploitation films or this particular subgenre, I recommend this picture. As opposed to its genre predecessors, this flick is well-made and intelligent. Most of all though, it’s a pretty fun movie that doesn’t forget its place as a B-movie. Moreover, this flick is the best of its kind. In closing, Revenge a psychedelic, candy-colored, blood-spattered ride! Check it out today and see the best B-picture of the year!
Revenge is Currently Available on Blu-Ray, Digital, DVD, & will also be Available to Stream on Shudder in September!