Revenge Matilda LutzYear: 2018
Director(s): Coralie Fargeat
Writer(s): Coralie Fargeat
Region of Origin: France

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 108 mins

Synopsis: Never take your mistress on an annual guys’ getaway, especially one devoted to hunting – a violent lesson for three wealthy married men. (Source)

Every so often, a film comes along, chews us up and spits us out. That time is now, and that film is Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. A knockout of a directorial debut by every measure, Fargeat’s film is, by design, nasty, unflinching and ultimately empowering. In a time of #MeToo’s and #TimesUp, this rape revenge exploitation thriller turns the genre on its head, subverting male gaze and transforming queasy body horror into hardcore catharsis. This is a learn survival film that manages to give new context to its timeless conflict, dissecting a woman’s agency and the way that men balk when women don’t act the way they want. Star Matilda Lutz also shines as the transformative heroine, creating a new cinematic icon for the ages. From start to finish, Fargeat proves herself a voice that needs to be heard, resulting in a fresh, urgent horror film that delivers.

Things kick off innocently enough, when Jen (Matilda Lutz) and her married millionaire boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) arrive by helicopter at a lavish desert hideaway. Richard’s set to embark on an annual hunting trip with some friends, but is first taking a few days for himself and Jen. After a night alone, Richard’s friends, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede) show up a day early, rifles in hand, forcing everyone to improvise. That night, Jen seemingly hits it off with Stan and Dimitri, but when Richard leaves for an errand the next morning, Stan decides to move in. Mistaking some of Jen’s carefree actions as teases, Stan is devastated when Jen refuses his advances. Stan takes what he wants, and rapes Jen as Dimitri looks away. When Richard returns and tries to buy Jen’s silence, things go off the rails, ending in attempted murder. Much to the chagrin of Richard, Stan and Dimitri, Jen, inches from life, refuses to go without a fight – she won’t be silenced or be taking any prisoners.

Against all odds, Fargeat manages to turn a savage rampage through the desert into a crowd-pleasing act of rebellion. Yes, the premise is vile, and yes the film is hard to watch at times, but a feminist perspective takes these ideas to new heights. Fargeat isn’t here to sugarcoat the way that Richard, Stan and Dimitri relegate Jen as a piece of disposable meat. But while she doesn’t hold back on the violent excess, she also doesn’t exploit how her heroine is violated. After drawing us in with an almost airy first act, Fargeat goes for the throat, gradually transforming Jen into an avenging angel of death. As Jen picks off her aggressors one-by-one, a portrait of toxic masculinity and fierce femininity begin to form. Punctuated by a pulsing electronic score from musician Rob, the film unleashes a relentless succession of fatal set pieces and enough buckets of blood to make even the hardest gorehound blush.

Revenge review Matilda Lutz Vincent Colombe Guillaume BouchedeAs this is a focused survival story, the film hinges on Matilda Lutz’s searing performance. Pivoting off of an unsuspecting first impression, one in which she comes off as an almost ditzy distraction, Lutz slowly subverts our feeble perception of what Jen can and should be. At its heart, the film is about the disconnect between appearances and reality, and Lutz delivers full force by making Jen someone who consistently evolves and surprises. By the time that final dazzling act has occurred, we are fully on board with Jen and have felt all of the rage tha’s shaped her into something new. If a good heroine is only as good as her villains, Janssens, Colombe and Bouchede are exactly who the film need. Each man creates a patriarchal microcosm, exposing misplaced indignation in a way that hits hard.

In the end, Fargeat’s deconstruction of insidious social norms is as absurdly infectious as it is sobering and timely. That Fargeat gets to have her cake and eat it too is nothing short of a miracle. This film absolutely knows how to have pitch black fun but never undercuts the grave nature of its heroine’s journey. Finally, this is a film in which pulp is substance. More than a torture porn endurance test, Revenge is a rare kind of beast. Whether you come for the pure thrill or incendiary themes, there’s a lot to admire in this auspicious marvel of a film.

SG