On a trip with her married boyfriend, Jen gets raped by one of his friends and left for dead by the group. As she awakens, she decides to get revenge and goes after those who wronged her in a brutal manner.
Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, Revenge would be run of the mill brutal if the rape was seen and not heard in the way it is here. The scene cuts away from it, not showing the actual action but the sounds of what is not shown paired with a few furtive glances at the victim’s eyes and hands create something that is more emotionally brutal than when all is shown. The coldness of it all, the reaction from another character shows how some aggressors get away with it while more than one person knows what they have done. This whole situation feels more brutal than the entirety of what comes after. The revenge part of the film is violent but feels less so after the emotional toll brought by the source for wanting revenge. The comeuppance the men involved in the rape and what follows get dealt is satisfying yes, but, except for the last part of the film, the last “victim”, it feels like yes it is violent, but as a viewer there is a numbness at this point, at least for some viewers there will be. Fargeat creates a source for the revenge that feels more emotionally connected, less physically brutal and more mentally brutal, something a lot of rape/revenge films do not do.
The cast for Revenge originally looks to be led by Kevin Janssens as Richard, a man who doesn’t come off as the greatest person from the start. However, this switches to Matilda Lutz as Jen as the film advances and she truly takes her life, and revenge, into her own hands. Janssens gives a performance that makes his character come off as utterly unlikable, conceited, and without remorse. His line delivery and body language give those vibes off right from the start. Matilda Lutz, for her part, comes off a bit ditzy at first, but her portrayal of Jen through the pivotal scene show a sudden growth for the character. Post being left for dead, Lutz gives Jen a strength in how she wants to survive and get revenge as well as what she is willing to do to get to her goals. She gives her character determination and a will to keep going that makes her tough lady and a character the viewer can root for in a film filled with despicable and dislikable people. She is the star here and is the main reason to watch Revenge.
Supporting her work and her vengeance are the special makeup effects by artist Laetitia Quillery who does fantastically bloody work. By the end of the film, the viewer will wonder how some of these characters have managed to survive that long after being maimed this badly. The work on display looks great, gushy, and quite gross at times. Most of the effects pieces are realistic and look like they hurt. Quillery’s work brings the visual horror to the film with great talent.
All of this happens in a visual world created by the cinematography of Robrecht Heyvaert who makes everything look stunning yet in your face at times. The use of the inside of the house versus the yard and the desert shows a capacity to gives each space its own personality and look of their own. This helps establish each scenes and the mood of the film, from the cozy and warm start to the cold and empty unfeeling desert to the bloodstained ending, everything gets its own look through Heyvaert’s lens.
Working with everything on screen is the music by Robin Coudert and Rob (as credited on usually trusty IMDB) who create a soundscape that adds to and underlines the films emotions. The choice of what music goes where as well as to which scenes to leave without music is clearly well thought out and calculated for best impact and impression. As much as the music works great with the scenes it is on, the lack of it is noticeable and helps create a more complete experience.
Revenge is a powerful film but its brutality does not lie solely where most people would expect it. The emotional and mental effect on the characters and the viewer is what hits the hardest and not the obvious violence that unfolds through to the end. Yes, this violence is effective with hard hits and rough deaths, but what will hit the hardest for some viewers will be the unseen, the reactions, how some of the characters handle the rape more than its consequences. That being said the consequences are fun to watch in a strong revenge kind of way. In a horror sub-genre where male filmmakers usually dominate, Coralie Fargeat brings a more female approach to the source, to the rape itself, connecting it more to the emotionality of the act than its physicality. This gives her film more impact on the whole than a regular physical violence over mental and emotional violence that most films in the sub-genre usually go for. Here these things are not avoided, they are taken head on while also being left to the viewer to make up their own minds on the situation and the power of the revenge itself.