By Jim Slotek
Fun fact: Peyote is a drug so powerful, it can turn a half-dead rape survivor into a vengeful super-soldier.
That’s one takeaway from Revenge, a brutal, bloody first-feature from Coralie Fargeat that is sort of a French person’s idea of what a ‘70s grindhouse rape revenge movie is like – infused with feminist-inspired vigilante justice and manic verve.
The direction Fargeat takes goes right down to the marketing of the film. The latest trailer on YouTube superimposes misogynistic comments from internet trolls from earlier editions of the trailer. “These are Actual Comments From Actual Men about REVENGE,” it begins. Cue the trolls: “What the f--- is it with all these new movies and women in power everywhere?” and “Women aren’t strong enough to bust a grape in a food fight.”
If that sounds harsh, well, meet the Frenchmen who do horribly wrong by California girl Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) in Revenge. There’s her uncaring, buff, married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens), who has helicopters, big game trophies and a luxurious vacation home. And there are Richard’s two lumpen hunting buddies, the drunken Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) and Stan (Vincent Colombe), the latter of whom follows Jennifer around with an evil leer that fairly screams, “the first time I get you alone, I’m going to rape you.”
Americans certainly steal a lot of French movies, so fair enough to steal a convention or two back. But I’m not sure what Fargeat is going for by making Jennifer the only American character in an otherwise French film. And a stereotypical American at that. Wannabe actress Jennifer is blonde, wears a pink “I (Heart) L.A.” halter and shows up at the vacation home sucking a lollipop. The camera follows her behind from behind at a low angle in the style of an ‘80s teen sex comedy.
After a drunken night with the three in which she dances flirtatiously with Stan (big mistake), the morning finds Richard gone on an errand, and Jennifer at the mercy of Stan’s unwanted further attentions. Solicitous lust turns to searing viciousness, and Richard comes home to a distraught Jennifer.
Gentleman that he is, he immediately tries to smooth things over by promising an acting role in Vancouver (!), which he admits is not Hollywood, but hey, he’s trying.
As with Stan, Jennifer’s refusal to play along elicits rage from Richard, things escalate, and Jennifer seems almost certainly dead. But for the peyote. And the mud and blood that seems to instantly turn her from blonde to brunette, and therefore, much more of a bad-ass.
Strip away the misogyny politics (which are hard to justify as anything but a virtuous excuse for violent mayhem), and Revenge is, well, a revenge film in the true B-movie American style. In fact, it plays its oft-heard notes so loudly (the ending is so awash in blood, people slip and slide) that it almost seems like a genre spoof.
Characters are shot and injured, pulling sharp and blunt objects out of themselves in spurts of blood. And once the hunted-becomes-the-hunter premise is set, Jennifer’s order-of-victims is fairly obvious, culminating in exactly the showdown we expect.
Still, Fargeat keeps it all moving at a crazed pace that tends to make you forget you’ve seen this movie before (although the turnaround-prey is usually named Willis or Schwarzenegger).
Revenge. Directed by Coralie Fargeat. Starring Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens and Vincent Colombe. Opens Friday, May 11 in Toronto and Vancouver.