The rape-revenge film is notorious for its gruelling portrayals of women as the victims of sexual violence undergoing a transformation and this is no different. However, I’ve rarely seen the format play out in quite such a stylish and confident manner. This, coupled with an intense performance from Matilda Lutz as Jen makes Revenge an engaging entry into the subgenre.
Wealthy and handsome Richard takes his beautiful young mistress Jen to an isolated luxury condo in the desert, a few days ahead of his annual hunt. When his two hunting partners turn up unexpectedly, the booze starts flowing and things quickly become debauched. Events run out of control, however, and the men realise they must get rid of Jen, or jeopardise their precious careers and reputations. They leave her for dead in a desert canyon, and callously carry on with their planned hunting trip.
Director/writer Coralie Fargeat utilises quick cuts and extreme close ups to throw the viewer directly into scenes. Initial shots of Jen put her body on display, but it is apparent that this is done to enhance the later physical transformation which she goes through. Also, the initial shots are somewhat softened by the fact that Jen is clearly comfortable as the subject. We are watching with permission, rather than in so many films where a woman is watched without her knowledge or control.
There is always debate around the representation of sexual violence within the rape-revenge subgenre, and for good reason. Clumsy handling of such material can be gratuitous. Luckily, here, Fargeat uses her sense of style to create a scene which is horrific, with lots of details to enhance the unpleasantness, without focusing too much on the act itself.
The locations add a huge amount to the feel of the film. The ultra-slick house representative of wealth and decadence is stationed in an incredibly harsh, vast environment. The outer world becomes an area in which Jen is transformed – and in turn, she returns to change the house into something which better reflects her trauma. The encounter between Jen and Richard (Kevin Janssens) is suitably tense and physical in equal measure.
Fargeat is clearly very keen on symbolism and metaphor, given how much is woven throughout the film. Fire and more specifically the imagery of the phoenix are invoked frequently throughout as emblems and signifiers of Jen’s necessary change. There is a particularly nice touch in the recurring image of Jen’s pink, star-shaped earring to act as a reminder of the girl she was. Sometimes the construction of film veers into music video territory, but not often enough to detract from the narrative.
In addition to this focus on symbolism in the transformation, there are clear references to sexual organs and penetration within the revenge she takes against the men – particularly Stan (Vincent Colombe). The gore factor in the film is significant, with much of it drawn out and in up-close detail. It is not short on grisly details and extended sequences of the results of the violence.
Ultimately, Revenge is a satisfying entry into a subgenre that can so frequently leave a bad taste. It keeps to a tried-and-tested format but combines a standout performance from Lutz with a stylistic flair to elevate it.
Revenge is released on Digital HD today (September 7th) through Vertigo Releasing.