The rape-revenge film has always been controversial: seeing a woman violently murder her attackers might be cathartic, but their death hardly ends her trauma. With greater awareness around sexual violence, the genre might be even more of a minefield today. In her debut feature Revenge, French director Coralie Fargeat deftly navigates it by fully embracing its more unrealistic aspects and flipping its problematic elements on their head.
The film follows Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young, modern-day Lolita who joins her rich, married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) at his isolated desert villa. When his hunting friends Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) join the couple, Jen remains as sexy as ever: she clearly does not dress or behave the way she does for anyone but herself. The next day, while Richard is away, Stan violently rapes Jen after she turns him down. Already, the film is refreshingly aware of the mechanisms of sexual violence: Stan does not believe that Jen was cruelly leading him on, but pretends so, using that lie as an excuse for attacking her. He is not a movie monster, just a regular one. As it turns out, so is Richard: back at the house, he is angry at Stan for making a mess, but defends him, telling Jen it was all a misunderstanding. When she doesn’t back down, he summarily pushes her off a cliff.
From this moment on, the film does not so much abandon realism as it enhances it with genre elements. Jen proves much more resourceful than any of the men anticipated and, with the help of a strong hallucinatory drug, she goes on a brutal rampage. The film’s slick editing, vibrant colours, and heavy soundtrack consistently emphasise how sexy and powerful she looks, but never at her expense: this is exactly the image she wants to project. Together with the many grotesquely gruesome moments of body horror, this aesthetic signals the film’s tangential relation to reality, and turns Revenge into an overwhelming and unshakeable sensory experience.