REVENGE ***** France 2017 Dir: Coralie Fargeat. 108 mins
The title of writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s visually stunning 21st century, #MeToo-era rape-revenge movie appears on screen in huge bold, yellow letters. The opening stretch toys with genre expectations and long-held perceptions of the horror genre as the domain of the “male gaze”, as beautiful leading lady Matilda Lutz is objectified by both the male characters and the camera. The blonde American fantasy figure, mistress of married father Kevin Janssens, arrives at his lavish villa in the middle of the desert and becomes the victim of a brutal sexual assault involving his “associates”, winding up left for dead.
In a sub-genre where movies as old as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE are still controversial (and censored), REVENGE conveys the catalytic rape sequence via fleeting, inexplicit fragments and the actions of a character in the next room, turning up the TV to drown out the sounds of her violation. Fargeat is more interested in the dialogue of the rapist (including the cliched justification of his own appalling actions: “You’re so goddam beautiful – it’s hard to resist you…”) than the act itself. When Lutz is reborn as a post-Ripley / Buffy invincible action heroine, patching up mortal wounds with the efficiency of John Rambo, the movie delivers excruciating physical injuries and outstanding gore FX reminiscent of the early 21st century new wave of French horror. The climactic reversal is fabulous, as a vacuous televisual ode to consumerism provides the backdrop to the final confrontation between warrior-woman and the previously powerful male lead – reduced to a naked, objectified victim with nothing to fight back with other than a lame misogynist lament: “Women always have to put up a fucking fight…” One of the most stylish and enjoyable movies of the year, and with a pulsing, dynamic score by MANIAC’s Rob.
Review by Steven West