Content warnings for sexual assault and movie spoilers.
Revenge is a rape-revenge movie but — nearly every reviewer is at pains to point out — it’s a feminist rape-revenge movie. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, the name is pretty descriptive. Someone is raped, and then either she or her friends or family track down the assailants.
The problematic feature of the genre is that first you are invited to enjoy the rape scenes, then you are invited to enjoy the violent vengeance scenes. You get to play both sides. Revenge takes a slightly different tack.
The first act of the film dramatizes what we’ve heard in a lot of “Me Too” stories. Jen (Matilda Lutz) is visiting her rich boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) in his remote desert home when his two hunting buddy friends drop in unannounced. They drink, dance, and have an otherwise good time. But when Richard leaves on an errand, Stan (Vincent Colombe), takes advantage of the situation.
At this stage we are solidly in dramatic territory, and new director Coralie Fargeat (this is her first feature-length film) handles the scene very deftly. One of the common narratives of “Me Too” is that men — all men — are potential threats, and turning down an invitation to sex means taking your life into your own hands. This is what plays out: Jen tries to let Stan down gently, but he steadily escalates from merely creepy to violent.
Rather than invite you to the rape, Revenge takes this moment to shift focus to Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchéde), the stand-in for men who stand by. Even though he knows what’s going on, he ignores it. We can hear the rape in the background as Dimitri snacks, turns up the TV, decides to go for a swim. And later, when it’s time to make a decision, he satisfies the bro code and backs up Stan.
Oh, here’s the trailer. It’s pretty gory in its own right, so …
Of course, when Richard comes back he does what any good boyfriend does: attempt to buy Jen off to protect his reputation and those of his friends. When Jen refuses this, things go predictably pear-shaped. Thus ends the first dramatic act, and a doozy of one it is.
All that remains is the revenge. This we are absolutely invited to, and the violence is — as is the nature with exploitation movies — cartoonish and pornographic. And this is what caused me the most problems with the movie. The opening is so dramatically real and genuine, then we grind the clutch getting into the second act.
You see, Jen is gravely wounded. Like me, Richard cannot believe that she is still alive — probably because no one has informed him that Tarantino has taken over. But now that he has, it’s nothing a little peyote and makeshift field medicine can’t take care of.
This nagged me the whole movie. There was a hole in Jen you could practically see through just scenes ago; but no — she’s up and running. It’s something we expect in action movies and Tom and Jerry cartoons, but Revenge set itself up as something quite a bit different at the first.
That said, Stan, Richard, and Dimitri deserve every bit of what they get and a bit more besides. It’s absolute fun to see it happen. And if Lutz has any difficulty switching from sexual assault victim to silent angel of bloody death, it’s not in evidence.
And you can feel good about it too. I mean, sure, you went along with Dimitri on his swim but that’s because the camera forced you to. In the real world, that’s not how you’d respond to your best friend raping someone.