Revenge is a dish best served cold, a Klingon proverb we all remember from the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. But, what if it comes nude, soaked in blood, and glazed with Instagram filters? Such is the case for writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s murderously gorgeous French thriller, Revenge. For nearly two hours, we watch a resourceful American socialite take on one hunk and two schlubs in a game of survival with echoes of The Crow, Tomb Raider, Breakdown, and High Tension.
Don’t be fooled by the candy-colored shot selections — or rather, the 360 portraits of actress Matilda Lutz that seem like online content for Maxim magazine — this is downright ugly filmmaking. Fargeat spares no expense with the gore, sending the film’s heroes and villains through the ringer, from gutsy shotgun blasts to gaping foot injuries that would send Bruce Campbell to the infirmary in tears. No, once the shit hits the fan, the blood never stops splattering, and it’s a total thrill.
Revenge is downright gratuitous. From beginning to end, the movie is one long, ostentatious production that leans heavy on showing rather than telling. When we first meet Lutz’s Jennifer, she’s prancing around her boyfriend’s multi-million dollar hideaway in a bikini, and Fargeat zeroes in on her features with the gaze of a sleazeball. By the end, she’s gone full Lara Croft while her former lover wears his Patrick Bateman best, slithering around nude and covered in blood.
Simply put, Fargeat is biting her thumb at past genre tropes. Revenge is one big fuck you to a genre that has treated women like meat — often literally — and she takes back the reigns with incredible muscle. But what makes the movie riveting is how Lutz’s transition from damsel to destructor is filled with all kinds of tumbles. Dubious peyote trick aside, this is a heroine that earns her gold stars, missing shots and taking deep wounds like any new survivor. But she comes out on top.
You believe it, too. Like Martin Riggs and John McClane before her, Jennifer is the type of Jerry-rigged survivor that thrives on being so damn resourceful. Again, some of it’s incredibly far-fetched — at times, the story jumps from the loose realities of Die Hard into the sci-fi fantasy of A Good Day to Die Hard — but it’s hardly dull or pandering. No, Fargeat is smart to keep things fairly grounded, despite the whole shebang looking like a shiny, melted lollipop straight outta the MoMa.
That’s the rub, though. On the surface, Revenge is a jaw-dropping production that thrives from looking great, but there’s very little depth or substance to the narrative. That’s a problem given the subject matter. What happens to Jennifer is downright awful and despicable — she’s raped, beaten, and tossed off the side of a cliff — but you never get the sense that the film legitimately contends with these deeds. Instead, they simply become springboards for further torture porn.
Maybe that’s what the genre needs right now? After all, how long have we seen the opposite? Isn’t horror supposed to be an expulsion of fear and anxiety? A way for society to chew on its ugly underbelly? On that note, Revenge arrives at an interesting hour — during the ensuing #MeToo movement that’s blanketed Hollywood. While Jennifer isn’t exactly the emblematic hero for the movement, there is something to be said about her endurance. She can’t stop. She won’t stop.
And that’s by far her most believable character trait.