Reviews

REVENGE: A Feminist Horror Spectacle for the Modern Age

Owen Butler analyzes Coralie Fargeat's Revenge.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR REVENGE AHEAD, AS WELL AS DISTURBING DESCRIPTIONS.

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge begins with an image so painstakingly unmistakable to the viewer: Jen (Matilda Lutz), long golden hair flowing and falling off of her shoulders, eyes covered with Americana sunglasses, sucking on a lollipop. It’s an image that seems ripped straight from the iconic poster of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, vivid in its presentation and feeling so heavily inspired by everything sexist culture has been utilized as. Watching the first few minutes of this film, I felt disgusted. Fargeat is so refined at crafting her vision through the lens of modern culture that it wasn’t until about ten minutes in that I remembered it was directed by a woman.

When analyzing the opening of Revenge, I tend to think of Harmony Korine’s polarizing 2013 film Spring Breakers. Not in the sense that the two films are related in regards to their content (which they most definitely aren’t) but in reference to how Fargeat and Korine use the method of hooking different viewers in different ways. Mainstream, male-centric audiences will be hooked right from the get-go as Lutz, in all of her effortless style, is gazed at by the camera in ways only a man would (Korine almost abuses that tactic in Spring Breakers‘ opening scene). However, viewers who fixate on her body will certainly be in for a rougher ride as the film traverses its course. But for those who are able to see past that “at-first-glance” look, the film serves up plenty of treats. Both films serve the same dual purposes; to entertain and amaze those who are able to look beneath the surface, and to show those who can’t just how much they should.

Revenge (2018) – source: Rézo Films

Jen is not a character you can easily care for or even like when the movie begins. She’s the socialite mistress of a wealthy married man named Richard (Kevin Janssens) and almost seems to enjoy the luxury of being consistently used as his plaything. When his perverse friends arrive for an annual hunting trip, a tense buildup occurs, eventually leading to her rape at the hands of one of them. This is where you truly begin to feel for her and speaking from the perspective of a male, it’s truly a visceral, off-putting experience watching the brutality she is forced to live with. After being bribed by Richard, she refuses and attempts to escape, with the three men following close behind. The chase eventually culminates at the edge of a cliff, where Richard pushes her off and she falls, being impaled by a protruding tree. Left for dead, she eventually regains consciousness and utilizes all of her strength to hunt the three men down.

The “final girl” trope has always been something of a Hollywood statute. In recent years, however, films have focused less on putting their characters on a chopping block (allowing a girl to be so-called “final”), and instead have honed in on women being at the forefront of every frame. Films like It Follows, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Witch have truly embodied this and it shows. For instance, despite Fury Road‘s title, it’s more of a Furiosa movie than a Mad Max movie in the end. It truly feels like one of the greatest changes of the last decade and one that hopefully will continue throughout the next few decades.

Gender equality is something of a massive paradox in modern culture, and something I especially find to be quite a controversial topic on platforms like Twitter. I’ve always had quite an annoyance with people who claim that they are in support in gender equality and then go ahead and make constant statements that “all men are trash”, “all men can choke”, “all men should die”, and the like. There are plenty of men who definitely deserve the comments that people make about them (Bryan Singer, for instance) but it’s almost insulting as a proud feminist to watch those who claim that they’re in support of equality slam all men on the planet Earth, even the good ones. Something I love about Revenge is the way it handles feminism in a way other films don’t. Jen isn’t hunting these men down simply because they wronged her, she’s hunting them down because she knows they’d do it to another woman who is just as impressionable as she once was.

Revenge (2018) – source: Rézo Films

Revenge keeps its eye on the prize while telling its story. Fargeat never loses focus on conveying her message, but even better is that the film’ story is never distorted by an overload of violence or a misguided tone. She never sacrifices her vision for anything else and that’s really something to be admired. There’s an unnerving physicality to her vision, completely ruthless every step of the way. It’s not rare that indie films are crafted as meticulously as this one, but what separates it from other independent features is how uncompromising it is in the grand scheme of things. It’s confident in itself without coming off as too self-indulgent; repressed without feeling like it’s holding back; violent without seeming pointless in its brutality.

Revenge is truly something out of every toxic masculinity spreader’s wildest nightmares, which basically means that it’s one of the greatest films of the past few years. Coralie Fargeat clearly knows what she’s doing here, and shows incredible potential in the film-making industry. NEON (the studio who distributed it) is quickly shaping up to be the next A24 if they keep acquiring the rights to films like this. It’s an unrelenting, vicious beast; a savage and ferocious spectacle from beginning to end that grabs you by the throat and makes sure you know exactly what it’s trying to say.

If you plan on watching this at any point, however, a warning: this is easily one of the most violent films I have ever seen (maybe even more thirsty for blood than a full season of Game of Thrones).

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