‘Revenge’ uses action movie template to criticize rape culture

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fantastic Fest

Sometimes, a movie comes along that accidentally ends up more timely than it intends. “Arrival,” a film that showed the value in communicating and working with one those you disagree with, premiered just a few days after the most divisive election in U.S, history. “Revenge,” a socially conscious rape revenge film, follows suit in light of a recent series of Fest-related controversies.  

The structure of “Revenge” is something of a bait-and-switch, with the opening half hour acting as the setup of a typical, misogynist Hollywood film. Three male friends go out on a hunting trip in the middle of the desert, and one of them (who is married) brings his side chick along with him.

The camera objectifies star Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz in this segment, with long tracking shots that keep certain body parts in focus. This sequence is enough to make any viewer uncomfortable, and when one of the film’s other male characters rapes her and tells her she “wants it,” director Coralie Fargeat makes the audience feel responsible.

In the coming mess that follows, the three male characters of the film run through various forms of sexism. From saying that women never like nice guys, to saying women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes, to making excuses for inexcusable actions, each man in the film is despicable in their own way. Lutz’s character attempts to flee, and in the process her boyfriend attempts to murder her, and the three men leave her for dead in the desert.

Over the next hour and a half, Fargeat crafts one of the best action films of the decade, showing Lutz’s character’s growth into a verified badass, taking her revenge on these loathsome men. Each moment plays out differently than one would expect, and zigs where Hollywood zags — characters die when you expect them to live, live when you think they will die and run out of bullets when you think they have plenty left.

Fargeat has a wonderful grasp on sexual imagery and the significance of nudity. Though the camera consistently objectifies Lutz in the opening scenes of “Revenge,” it rarely, if ever, shows her nude. It’s less generous to male characters, breaking the norms of Hollywood by showing penises galore.

The violence in the film is equally aware of its sexual implications, starting by impaling Lutz’s character on a very phallic tree branch. Her escape from this scenario is a bloody, grueling mess for the film’s lead, so much so it caused an audience member at Fantastic Fest to physically faint. From this moment, the brutal violence of the movie turns to the men, including a shard of glass penetrating a man’s foot into a particularly vulvic wound.

The debut feature from French director Coralie Fargeat establishes her as a cinematic voice to follow, as “Revenge” is a beautiful and blisteringly angry criticism of rape culture, misogyny and the patriarchy that will change the way you watch movies.

 

  • “Revenge”
  • Rating: Not yet rated
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Score: 5/5 stars