France/Belgium | 2017 | Directed Coralie Fargeat
Logline: A young woman, on a tryst with a married man on a hunting weekend, is raped by one of his colleagues and left for dead, but soon the hunters become the hunted.
Gotta love the French for pushing the envelope when it comes to modern horror, time and time again they deliver the hardgore goods, and Fargeat’s debut feature is no exception. In what appears on the glossy surface as your standard rape-revenge flick, it becomes an elevated exploitation flick, if such a thing can exist. Revenge kicks tight ass into the middle of next week.
Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a wealthy, good-looking CEO, on a weekend hunting trip, to let off the proverbial corporate steam. He’s a married man (as phone calls to his wife back home reveal), but he’s arrived by chopper to the lush desert pad with his young mistress, Jen (Matilda Lutz). They enjoy a bit of nooky, and Jen awakens later and is surprised by the arrival of his two hunting pals, Stan (Vincent Colombe) Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchéde) and who’ve turned up a day early.
Later the four of them get juiced by the pool and turn the music up, and Jen parades around. Everything seems fine and dandy. But when Richard leaves the property on an errand, Stan decides to make sleazy moves on Jen, whilst Dimitri nurses a hangover. Things go from bad to worse. Oh yes, there’ll be tears before the chopper arrives, there’ll be hell to pay.
All the tropes are in place, the remote, desolate location (which is never named, but one assumes it’s somewhere deep in the Nevada Desert), the gorgeous girl whose charming demeanour is abused, the crass and ugly assailants, the two-faced rescuer, the escape, the pursuit, the degradation, the desperation, the sweat-soaked rise to the challenge, and the oh-so cold serve of revenge.
Fargeat has a sensational eye, and the movie’s mis-en-scene is laden with symbolic imagery, most notably the phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes. Robrecht Heyvaert’s cinematography, shot in vivid colour, the heat undulating off the screen in waves, the sweat running down in rivulets, is stunning. Curious to note that the movie was shot on 35mm, a consciously artistic choice these days, as most movies, especially ones of this stock, would be shot with digital cameras.
Of special note is Laetitia Quillery’s terrific special effects makeup work, most notably in the movie’s second half, with a glass injury to the sole of the foot that will make even the most hardened gorehound grimace. Apparently there was so much blood spilled - just wait ’til the movie’s last fifteen minutes! - that the sfx crew kept running out of fake blood. I must point out though, that you need to suspend all belief going into this movie, as there is a major plot point at the half hour point that will have most viewers rolling their eyes. You need to push that reservation aside. In fact, there are several more along the way, but hey, this movie is actually a very, very dark comedy. So pitch black, it demands its own Pantone entry.
So, absurdities aside, Revenge is a sensational b-movie given stellar treatment; the performances, especially Lutz and Janssens, are cracking. Lutz is an Italian ex-pat, but she oozes Californian sex appeal, whilst Jannsens has those chiseled matinee looks that belies his matter-of-fact murderousness. What’s also worth noting, Lutz has no dialogue past the half-hour mark, relying purely on body language and facial expression, and a scene within a cave, involving DIY surgery and a peyote-fuelled nightmare is a highlight.
Yes, it’s a violent movie for those unused to it (although unusually, and notably, for a rape-revenge flick it doesn’t actually show the rape on-screen), and the last fifteen minutes are unlike anything you’ve likely seen in a mainstream horror movie, elevating Revenge into the pantheon of contemporary cult classics. With Robin Coudert’s synth-soaked score adding further seductive fuel to the fire, voila! You have a graphic hardbody horror worth hooting about.