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Non-Review Review: Revenge

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

What if Nicolas Winding Refn directed a Blumhouse film?

Revenge is a neon-drenched and synth-saturated exploitation flick that takes some of the most familiar conventions of the survival horror genre and executes them with incredible style. Revenge puts a beautiful sheen on a very ugly film, constructing an effective revenge narrative full of striking imagery. As realised by director Coralie Fargeat, Revenge is a visceral experience. The film’s violence is almost tangible, the audience feeling every act of brutality inflicted upon the bodies of its cast.

A lot of this is down to the craft of those involved, working under Fargeat’s direction. Jérôme Faurel’s sound design ensures that the audience hears every drip of blood, every splash on every surface. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert and colourist Frédéric Savoir play up the contrast in the compositions, so the blood seems to burst off the screen against the bright yellows and the deep blues. Make-up effects artists Laetitia Quillery ensures that the cast carry every scar with them as the movie puts them through an endurance nightmare.

This attention to pure craft elevates Revenge above so many of its genre contemporaries. Revenge is undoubtedly trashy piece of cinema, but is never ashamed of what it is or apologetic for what it does. Instead, the film commits itself with an engaging and exhilarating enthusiasm. Revenge never views its genre as a limitation to transcend, but instead as a field in which to excel. And it certainly does.

The plot of Revenge is pure unadulterated schlock. A bunch of rich and deeply unpleasant individuals get up to some very bad things while on a hunting trip. This debauchery quickly escalates to include sexual assault and attempted murder. They leave their victim for dead, only to discover that she’s far from it. Hilarity ensues. And by “hilarity”, the film means “ridiculous amounts of violence.” This is all for course in films like this, the starting point of countless horror films. “Rich sociopaths do something with horrifically violent consequences” may be a genre unto itself.

Indeed, there is something to be said for the lean efficiency of these early scenes, how skillfully Fargeat builds a sense of mounting dread without lingering on it. It is very clear where Revenge is going from its earliest moments, as communicated through both Fargeat’s script and her directorial eye. Jen is established quickly as an object of sexual desire, the smooth-talking philanderer Richard as a sociopath just waiting to shed his affable exterior, his colleagues Stan and Dimitri as creepy leches. Trapping them all together in a remote location is a recipe for disaster.

Revenge is an exploitation film, and it walks a very fine line. There are certainly moments when Revenge seems to veer over that line, particularly as regards to its gaze towards Jen. Early on in the film, Richard describes Jennifer’s ass as “a peach”, and the camera offers the audience ample time to appreciate that assessment as it follows Jen around. Even after her assault, the camera luxuriates in the tears and scratches on Jenn’s undergarments in a manner that occasionally seems to be leering, the audience often viewing the action from behind Jenn’s hips rather than over her shoulders.

Coralie Fargeat compensates for this leering gaze in a number of ways. Most obviously, the direction is very keenly focused on taking in all sorts of beauty; Forgeat finds beauty in everything from a symbolic rotting apple on a worktop to the vast desert surroundings of the hunting lodge and even in the patterns of red on various surfaces over the course of the film. There is a sense that Fargeat is eager to take in as much beauty as possible, and the camera is drawn to Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz on those grounds alone, even in her disheveled state.

On a more superficial level, Fargeat cannily makes sure to balance her aesthetic appreciation of Lutz with a similar attraction to Kevin Janssens, structuring Revenge in such a way that the film gradually moves from leering at the body of its female lead to objectifying the physique of her most prominent male co-star. There is something very clever in the way in which Revenge ever-so-slightly tilts against the expectations of the genre, allowing its narrative weight to shift over the course of the film from a very standard exploitation film to something slightly more egalitarian.

After all, Revenge very consciously pitches itself as The Most Dangerous Game, female edition. One of the cannier shifts in the film finds the audience watching a tug of war to determine who is the hunter and who is the hunted in this scenario. One of the movie’s best story beats involves the sly reversal of the film’s premise as the characters in the hunting pack reflect that people lost in the forest really shouldn’t split up because they are liable to get picked off one at a time. “Do we look like we’re in a forest?” responds the leader of the pack. Maybe they aren’t, but the film suggests they are lost.

Revenge is not a particularly subtle film, and this is perhaps to its credit. After being sexually assaulted, Jenn spends a significant portion of the film with a gigantic wooden branch protruding from her abdomen, and spends the rest of the movie poking and prodding (and penetrating) the men responsible for her predicament. Tellingly, Jenn only removes the branch once she has armed herself with a rifle. The film’s climax is a literal reversal as it shifts from the male gaze to the female gaze, this transition marked by a mirroring of wounds on the hunter and the hunted.

To be fair, modern horror has (thankfully) reached a point where such canny reversals are no longer deemed innovative or radical of themselves. However, Fargeat is remarkably canny in how she executes these twists and developments. At the end of the film, the audience is treated to a female gaze twist on the iconic horror shower scene, and challenged to determine whether Jenn is now the “final girl” or the “horror movie monster” or whether Richard has found himself slotted into something close to the “final girl” role.

Revenge may not be groundbreaking, but it is clever. It plays with the audience’s understanding and expectation of the genre, even if it never up-ends or subverts them. It helps that Revenge is a sumptuous piece of cinema, elevated just by sheer aesthetics. Revenge is palpable and textured; even the night time shots seem drenched in neon, as the synths simmer on the soundtrack and blood literally pulses from wounds in the sound mix. During the day, the blue sky contrasts beautifully with the deep red blood – often smeared across faces and bodies.

There is an artfulness to the carnage and violence in Revenge. The climax of Revenge features several of the most overt gun-as-penis shots in recent memory, all the more notable for being folded into an impressive long-take that is not only technically impressive but narratively practical; it provides the audience with a walking tour of the space before all hell breaks loose. Similarly, Jennifer’s transition from victim-to-Avenger is marked with a literal branding of a bird – the fire suggesting a Phoenix – over the wound from her penetration. Revenge likes its symbolism.

Revenge is trashy cinema through-and-through, but it is stunningly and meticulously well-produced trash.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 3

2 Responses

  1. Wish most of these nice little gems weren’t so inaccessible due to mainstream dominance. You’ve sold me on this beautiful project so what now?

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