Revenge is an empowering story, that of a survivor who also brings justice upon the men who caused her harm. French writer/director Coralie Fargeat makes her debut with Revenge and delivers a brutal but exhilarating tale that blends reality and fantasy.
We have three men on one side, who are hunters too and a young woman on the other, too frail and beautiful for any sort of fight (or so it seems…). However, the odds of the game are gradually reversed and the hunted becomes the hunter and the underdog triumphs in a bloodshed of rightful vengeance. A pleasant surprise is also that Fargeat choses to imply rape without the graphic scenes we usually see in the genre, and in doing so she doesn’t damage the impact of its brutality for the viewer.
Revenge does not simply encourage the audience to empathise with Jen, it enables us to truly get immersed into her odyssey, identify with her and participate in her fight. Matilda Lutz is fantastic in a physically demanding role as she successfully captures the fragility of her heroine but also the silent dynamism and rage she experiences due to her troubles.
The desert is the perfect setting for the film, its wilderness and sterility are not forgiving weakness. It almost feels that Jen’s transformation could not have happened in any other place on earth, any less brutal and barren. This ultimate transformation is tremendously satisfying for the audience, perhaps because of its unlikely nature as it sees Jen, a playful bimbo becoming a fierce warrior of cult proportions.
It happens in a hallucinatory act with a disorienting, spiral soundtrack embedded; Jen finally emerges as a marked heroine with an eagle on her wound in a powerful moment with a symbolic meaning. Symbolism is widely used in the film: the apple of sin once bitten by Eve (or Jen) is now slowly rotting, the rebirth of a woman is marked by an eagle, bestowing her freedom and courage, etc.
The sound design in the film is amazing as it brings a 1970s-80s feel into the thriller, bringing in mind the incredible You Were Never Really Here, from another female writer/director, Lynne Ramsay. Fargeat’s choice of various types of shots adds vitality to the story and highlights the qualities of the characters. There are several extreme close ups, like Jen’s smile through the binoculars, Dimitri’s disgusting mouth while devouring snickers, etc. Slow motion close ups like Jen’s blood drops falling over ants are dressed with the unexpected sound of gunshots.
Low angle shots of our heroine when she commits murder for the first time, or another demonstration of Stan’s unprompted cruelty as he drowns a spider in his urine. Fargeat also reintroduces Jen to the audience with an iconic arc shot as another Lara Croft, determined and fierce. Finally, she uses different pallets to divide the film, before violence strikes colours are warm; the innocence of pink, the passivity and calmness of blue are replaced by darker colours and earth tones to convey the danger and isolation.
The camera follows the characters resembling a violent video game and the staging of the action scenes are surprisingly tense and thrilling, not to mention memorable. Particularly, the stylised ending sequence where Jen and Richard make slippery circles of blood until one of them slips brings in mind how a silly children’s game can be transformed into a manic death hunt.
After Revenge you might feel empowered and grateful for the well-deserved happy ending. You might contemplate upon the value of identifying with the heroine; could it be the case that we borrow her vengeance and adjust it to our reality? Could Jen’s metamorphosis, although extreme and irrelevant to our situation motivate us even slightly to give an uncompromising fight?