Revenge a French film shot in Morocco, is the first full-length feature from director Coralie Fargeat, who also wrote the screenplay. There is nothing about this film that reeks of first-time effort though, except for a possible technical blooper with a makeup effect. Revenge is expertly directed and filmed, with a great screenplay that relies on exquisitely choreographed action and artistic shots with minimal dialogue. As far as dialogue goes, there are some subtitles when the characters are speaking French, but most of the dialogue is spoken in English.
It would be stupid to simply describe this movie as I Spit on Your Grave with a better budget, better acting, great pacing and more suspense. The rape/revenge theme is taken to a classier level without sacrificing its violent edge. What sets this movie apart from other rape/revenge films is the brilliant pacing of the film (it never gets boring), fantastic cinematography, and some great hallucinogenic imagery (mostly done in close-up shots.) Having this story told by a female writer and director gives the film a perspective and style that is unique and refreshing. The strength of the main character and her transition from victim to avenger is believable and empowering. One of the most powerful scenes is a confrontation between Jen and her would-be murderer, where he is naked and fighting for his life. This scene puts a man in the position of vulnerability that films are constantly putting women in.
Matilda Lutz is a revelation in her portrayal of Jen. She presents the evolution of her character from “shallow blonde mistress” to rape victim to fierce survivor who is willing to go to great (and violent) lengths to get out of her situation alive. With her character’s “back from the dead with a vengeance” metamorphosis, the film transcends its own title to become a story that is more about survival than revenge.
Vincent Colombe turns in an unforgettable performance as Stan. He could have easily phoned his performance in and made Stan just another one-dimensional bad guy, but he does not. His early scenes in the film, as he is coming on to Jen, leering at her perversely, then slowly becoming both enraged and overcome with lust at her refusals, will make you feel the need for a hot shower to scrub off the dirt. While Colombe and Lutz stole the show as far as I’m concerned, hats off to Kevin Janssens as Richard, who had to film a lot of action scenes buck naked and often full-frontal.
Fargeat’s use of close-up shots, sometimes focusing in on someone’s mouth or an eye, are absolutely brilliant. When Dimitri walks in on Stan raping Jen, the camera zooms in on his mouth as he chews on a candy bar, while the viewer is waiting to see if he is going to stop Stan or join him. It’s a treacherously uncomfortable scene but shot so effectively.
Fargeat also keeps the viewer on edge by throwing in plot twists at just the right time. There isn’t a boring minute in the entire film; and the event that sets the story into high speed is so shocking and unexpected that I almost felt the need to pause the movie so I could absorb it. TV series The Walking Dead has an after show where people are able to “unpack” the events of that night’s episode and discuss them. Revenge could use an after show.
There are several body horror scenes that are so great! Some of them are cringe-inducing, especially one involving someone pulling a shard of glass out of their foot. There are far more violent and bloody scenes than this, but for some reason, that was the scene that made my teeth hurt. For a movie that really isn’t a horror film, but more of an action/suspense film, there is SO MUCH GORE! Buckets and buckets of blood! Seriously! There is a scene where one of the characters is basically “painting” an entire room with their own blood, using their body as a paintbrush.
The cinematography really stands out as well. Whether creating claustrophobic scenes in small caves or rooms, or filming panoramic views of the beautiful desert landscape, almost every shot is perfection. Again, the close-up shots are the real stand-outs of the cinematography. There is a captivating shot of an ant while drops of blood fall on it from above, and another shot of a spider struggling to maintain its footing as one of the men pisses on it. I’m thinking Fargeat may not like bugs.
Revenge has a strong screenplay, great directing and cinematography, and the story is so well-placed that it is a pleasure to watch. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie this much. As a suspense thriller, the violence might be too graphic for viewers who are put off by gore, but I hope that isn’t the case. The film is so well done that it deserves a wide theatrical release. However, horror fans should enjoy the film because of the graphic violence and gore as well as the pacing of the story. This is not one of those films you have to sit through eighty minutes of nothing for ten minutes of pay-off. In fact, Revenge has a very satisfying ending, something rare in suspense and horror films. Meanwhile, I am anxiously awaiting Fargeat’s next film.