EPPLER: "Revenge" is the movie we need right now
A rape revenge movie told from a female perspective feels like a rallying cry for the "Me Too" moment. FOX34's James Eppler has the review.
You've seen this movie before. "Revenge" finds a woman setting out to punish three men who raped and left her for dead. But what makes this new take on the well-traveled material feel more pressing and even necessary is the perspective from which it is told and the timeliness of its arrival.
Typically, these movies are male fantasies told from their perspective (male filmmakers and main characters) with the hero exacting revenge on villains who hurt his woman. Her suffering is the catalyst for his brutality to be justified. She is viewed more like his property someone was stupid enough to mess with (think 1974's "Death Wish" or the scores of imitations). There have been times when women are allowed to take revenge for themselves ("I Spit on Your Grave," "Kill Bill," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," etc.) but these stories are almost always told by men.
Why does that matter?
First-time feature film director Coralie Fargeat answers that question by delivering a well-made, highly stylish genre picture with "Revenge" that challenges audiences not just with its level of gnarly violence (it's intensely bloody) but with the ideas it's communicating about how these stories can be told and experienced from a different perspective.
Matilda Lutz (who deserves to be a star after this) is Jen, a woman taken to a remote vacation house with her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens). When two of his hunting buddies show up early, it turns bad quickly when she's assaulted by one of them when Richard is away on an errand. She escapes, and the men work to track her down, gravely injuring her and leaving her for dead. She is impaled on a branch - penetrated a second time by these perpetrators. Of course, she's not dead, and the three men work to hunt her while she's actually hunting them.
True to the genre Fargeat is representing, the movie is way over the top with gore and violence - not to be taken seriously. But in the instance of the rape itself, it's a different approach because it's no laughing matter. The assault happens largely off camera, and our focus is on the man who looks the other way, allowing it to happen. We hear screams off screen while he munches on snacks. Fargeat chooses to focus on the grotesqueness of this cowardly slob eating (wet chewing sounds with close-ups of the mouth) to get a visceral reaction out the audience, heightening our disgust.
In many ways, "Revenge" has the harshest criticism (and punishment) for the man who knows what is happening and refuses to intervene. As we have seen in the "Me Too" movement, so many abusers were able to continue for so long because people who knew did nothing.
Perhaps the most noticeable touch by Fargeat making this film feel uniquely feminist in its point of view is how nudity is used. It's more than being simply exploitative. When Fargeat's camera leers at Jen's body, it is always from a place of empowerment. She's in control of the situation. Conversely, there are long stretches of the film where Richard is stark naked and it's always from a place of vulnerability. Just try and name me a movie where a man spends a long period running around naked, fearing for his life - from a woman, no less.
"Revenge" is not a great movie - not even the best movie about revenge released this year (that's "You Were Never Really Here"). Fargeat is too self-indulgent at times (an ant scurrying away from drops of blood with booming sounds made my eyes roll). But the movie is awfully good at what it wants to be and what it needs to be. It feels like a movie we need right now - something birthed out of a moment in time - seeing abusers naked, terrified and punished for their transgressions from the perspective of a voice that is, at long last, being heard, believed and empowered.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * 1/2
* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year
* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles
* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing
* * Mediocre - You can do better
* Awful - The worst, an insult to movies
Playing only at Alamo Drafthouse