Movie Review: The #MeToo Movement Gets its ‘Revenge’
In 1978, Meir Zarchi’s seminal horror film I Spit on Your Grave, about a woman who is raped and ultimately takes gruesome revenge on her tormentors, was reviled by critics and most audiences as an especially mean-spirited and misogynistic exploitation movie.
Roger Ebert claimed it was “one of the most depressing experiences of my life,” and that “it is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters.”
Now playing in Prague cinemas, French director Coralie Fargeat’s debut film Revenge takes roughly the same premise, dumbs it down to action movie basics, ups the bloodshed, and throws out the more nuanced revenge-movie thematic material. And it’s being hailed as some kind of feminist manifesto.
I’m not so sure it should be taken that far. But Revenge is an undeniably slick and well-crafted and there is a perverse pleasure in watching bad guys like this - a rapist, an enabler, and worst of all, the one who tries to clean everything up - get what’s coming to them. As much as the exploitation movies of the 70s, this is a reflection of a contemporary zeitgeist.
Ironically, though, there really isn’t really any Revenge in this film.
After beautiful young mistress Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) is viciously raped by one of her boyfriend’s ‘associates’ while on a hunting retreat at an isolated desert estate, she’s shoved off a cliff and impaled on a tree when beau Richard (Kevin Janssens) decides he doesn’t want to deal with the aftermath.
But when the trio go back to take care of her body, they discover she has somehow survived… and left a thick trail of blood behind her. In Most Dangerous Game fashion, the young beauty now becomes their prey. But she puts up an unexpected - and unexpectedly vicious - fight for survival.
While your typical revenge movie centers around a moral dilemma - does exacting vengeance make the protagonist as bad as the villain? - Revenge features no such quandary: Jen’s actions throughout the entire film are in self defense, her violent bloodletting clearly an act of self preservation.
That might make this a little less interesting than similar films, but it replaces ethical intrigue with thriller movie flair: this is an intense and brutally effective film that shows empathy for both Jen and, somewhat surprisingly, her attackers.
Jen, Richard, and rapist Stan (Vincent Colombe) are each bloodily maimed throughout the film, and writer-director Fargeat goes to lengths to depict how they deal with their cringe-inducing injuries: searing open wounds closed with a hot beer can, extracting glass from deep inside a foot, and using saran wrap to contain a shotgun blast to the abdomen.
Despite copious amounts of gore - during the film’s climactic moments, the floors and walls of the film’s lone house are almost entirely covered in blood - the violence in the film repulses more than it provides revenge-movie satisfaction at justice being served. Violence begets violence, Revenge seems to be saying, but all the violence was unnecessary.
Revenge was gorgeously shot (by Robrecht Heyvaert) amidst the desolate landscapes of the Moroccan desert, but appears to be set in the Southwestern United States; WWF matches and American infomercials amusingly play out over some of the film’s key scenes.
Note: though dialogue here is minimal, about 40% of Revenge is in French (the rest in English), and subtitled in Czech in Prague cinemas.