How does one start a review for a film like Revenge? The genre- the rape and revenge horror film- isn’t one where I can use a lighthearted or simple anecdote to spur commentary on the film. Perhaps more than any other genre, rape and revenge films are placed under particular scrutiny based on the gender of the director and what “message” the film may have to offer. The genre might also have the most constraints. The gender of and what roles characters play are essentially a given and the three act structure (rape -> rehabilitation -> revenge) is seldom subverted.
French newcomer Coralie Fargeat follows the conventions of the genre rather closely in her flashy, B-movie horror. French millionaire Richard (Kevin Janssens) and his mistress Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) fly out to Richard’s desert home before Richard’s annual hunting trip. Fargeat deliberately lacks subtlety in portraying the danger of Jennifer’s situation. She is sexualized almost immediately by the camera and when Richard’s buddies arrive a day early bearing guns, we dread the inevitable. The sickly yellow tint of Revenge’s opening scenes can only add to our discomfort. After scaring Jennifer in their arrival, Richard welcomes his friends indoors and the four engage in a night of drinking, dancing, and music. The next morning the grave danger Jennifer is in is realized after Richard leaves to check in with the gameskeeper, leaving his two friends alone with her.
Much like the overt sexualization of Jennifer, Fargeat portrays the three male characters of her film with equal directness. ‘This is rich, pretty man. This is horny man. This is fat man.’ sums up quite nicely Richard and his two friends. Because of the parody-esque simplicity of characters in Revenge, the dialogue of the film suffers. Only after Jennifer’s rape do any of the characters gain an ounce of characterization, and only a little. Jennifer’s character is also not one that is complicated. She intends to have an enjoyable weekend with her lover, but now is motivated purely by her need to survive.
The brand of horror fleshed out in Revenge is grisly: the film reportedly ran out of fake blood repeatedly while shooting. The following of blood spatter trails is a repeated visual motif as are grotesque close-ups of insects. The strongest quality of Revenge is its aesthetic and cinematography, an impressive accomplishment for a debut film. Its musical score should also not be ignored, synth pulsations and droning static helping to trap audiences in an uneasy frame of mind.
It comes with some disappointment that Jennifer’s final act of revenge does not take advantage of a number of these strengths. Shot indoors, the scene has the least stylization of any sequence in the film and as a result what should be the most harrowing sequence of Revenge is actually the dullest. Tarantino might beam with pride seeing more blood than is physically in a human body, but the rest of us will most likely wish for an ending that could’ve made a unique statement or taken advantage of Fargeat’s directorial presence.