The Film: 4 stars
In the 70s rape-revenge tradition comes a French(-ish) extreme take, deftly weaving kick-ass feminism, comic-book action and surreal visuals into one breathless, blood-soaked package. Things start deceptively slowly, with Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) sharing a loving embrace with her married lover. Before long, two of his pals arrive; apparently, he has tried and failed to time his dirty weekend and his just-the-guys hunting trip so that they almost, but don’t quite, overlap. The film’s inventive camerawork embraces sexual objectification to parodic absurdity; many will appreciate the loving close-ups of Lutz’s pert bum, but fewer will appreciate the fine detail of the inside of her ear, as one of her boyfriend’s piggish companions ogles her at close range through binoculars (later, we will be treated to a close-up of the same actor’s mouth as he chews chocolate wafers). The tone of sexual aggression, as well as some ominous – if obvious – symbolic shots of rotting apples, et cetera, clue us in as to where this is all going. Sure enough, before the film’s twenty minutes in, Jen has been raped, betrayed and thrown into a ravine. And it’s off hunting for the boys.
But wait! Jen’s still somehow hanging in there, despite the tree branch that now goes all the way through her abdomen. One inventive and implausible escape later, she’s off on a roaring rampage of revenge. What you make of the following sixty minutes of stabbings, exploded heads, bloated corpses and Olympic swimming pools’ worth of blood may well depend on a) your affinity for gloriously grindhouse blood-and-guts movies, and b) your ability to suspend disbelief. Many will quibble that Jen routinely shrugs off injuries that would kill Rasputin – actor Guillaume Bouchède, interviewed in the extras, shares with us the medical disapproval expressed by his mother, a doctor – but I don’t think her incarnation as an avenging angel in the mould of Mad Max or The Bride is supposed to be taken any more literally than her earlier incarnation as an impossibly naïve “brainless beauty” type. She might as well be literally undead, like The Crow – a character she becomes visually reminiscent of after a makeshift cauterisation.
In any case, the action here is brutal enough to make hardened gore fans cringe, yet Jen’s quest is so righteous, and the targets of her revenge so thoroughly vile, it’s best to just put logic aside and cheer the heroine along. Revenge may be unashamedly a feminist fantasy, yet it’s one that forces its heroine to earn her status as such. The gruelling ordeal here is worlds away from the empty feel-good platitudes of a Wonder Woman or a Captain Marvel, a fact sadly reflected in its box office. Yet Revenge is a much more rewarding experience for the brave.
Audio and Visuals: 4 stars
First-time director Coralie Fargeat and cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert deliver a stunningly gorgeous film. The hot pinks and baby blues seen near the start soon give way to more yellow than a Soderbergh movie, yet every scene is visually distinct, and many images are sure to keep returning to the viewer. The score is dreamy, and the sounds are satisfyingly brutal. Second Sight’s Blu-ray does justice to all of this.
Presentation: 3 stars
The menu shows off the film’s slinky synth score and slick desert visuals, with the film’s title appearing in bold pink. The box art is minimalist yet striking, and presents a much more interesting image than the film’s poster.
Extras: 2 stars
The main attraction here is a somewhat repetitive audio commentary by academic Kat Ellinger, who discusses the film’s feminist themes and draws dozens of connections to past genre (or “John-ra”, as she infuriatingly pronounces it several times a minute) works, from the obvious (rape-revenge films; the French Extreme) to the implausible (Cronenbergian body-horror; Testuo, the Iron Man). Elsewhere, there’s a number of interviews: “Out for Blood” is the most interesting of the extras included, providing a long and varied discussion with director Fargeat and star Lutz. Fargeat dominates, discussing the film’s themes and influences, yet Lutz is a thoughtful and engaging interviewee. In her own right. More technical aspects are discussed by cinematographer Heyvaert and composer Robin Coudert, respectively, in “Fairy Tale Violence” and “Death Notes”. Rounding things off is “The Coward”, a quirky little chat with supporting actor Guillaume Bouchède.
Overall: 3 stars
Revenge is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.