The Movie Waffler New Release Review - REVENGE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - REVENGE

revenge matilda lutz film review
A young woman takes violent revenge against the men who raped her and left for dead.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Coralie Fargeat

Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède

revenge matilda lutz poster

1970s film critics assigned to New York's notorious 42nd Street grindhouse beat would often comment on the reactions of the assembled patrons to the excesses portrayed on screen. According to these reviewers, during rape-revenge movies (a sub-genre that thrived in that era), the audience would often become split along gender lines, with the men (believe it or not!) cheering on the rapist villains while the women would hoop and holler in the third act when the female victim turned the tables on her assailants, usually in the most over-the-top and gruesome fashion (pretty much all of these movies featured the removal of a rapist's genitals at some point).

For her feature debut, writer/director Coralie Fargeat appears to be seeking to elicit a revival of such an extreme, binary reaction, even if in 2018 we like to think we've progressed beyond such attitudes. To Fargeat, the male audience for such seemingly regressive fare would seem akin to a sleeping bear, and she's determined to poke it with a stick until it growls in admission that yes, rape-revenge movies are sick and twisted in their concept, but (lowers voice to a whisper) they can also be a lot of fun.

revenge matilda lutz

The avenging angel of Fargeat's film is Jen (Matilda Lutz), who with her peroxide curls, revealing clothing and lolly-sucking ways, seems initially at least to be the classic airhead, the first to die in a slasher movie. The American Jen has travelled to the desert holiday home of her married French lover, square-jawed millionaire Richard (Kevin Janssens), who plans to take in some hunting with his buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) when Jen leaves the following day.

Stan and Dimitri arrive unannounced a day early however, forcing Richard to admit to his mates that he's cheating on his wife with Jen. This doesn't seem to bother the boys (well, they are French), and a night of partying ensues, Jen dancing provocatively with the increasingly sleazy Stan.

The following morning, with Richard away organising the day's planned hunting trip, Stan comes onto Jen, who does her best to let him down gently. Refusing to take no for an answer, Stan rapes Jen while Dimitri stuffs his face with cheetos in the next room. When Richard returns, the fact that his best friend has raped his mistress doesn't seem to bother him too much - he's more worried about Jen blurting to the police and ruining his business and marriage. When Jen makes a dash into the desert, Richard catches up with her, pushing her off a cliff, Jen falling 100 feet and becoming impaled on a branch.

revenge matilda lutz

It's at this point that a degree of suspension of disbelief is required, as Jen somehow manages to survive both the fall and the subsequent impalement. Using some hallucinogenic peyote to numb the pain, Jen cauterises her wound MacGyver style with a red hot, unfurled beer can, which in one of the film's cleverest visual touches leaves her stomach tattooed with the brewery's logo - a phoenix! Fuelled by peyote power and a thirst for revenge, Jen sets out to pick off the men who wronged her, and bloody carnage ensues.

Revenge is very much an offshoot of the New French Extremity movement of the 2000s, and to be honest I could have lived without its more excessive moment of body torment, which are cheaply designed to repulse, yet fail due to the rubbery nature of the practical FX on show. Fargeat's film is far more successful when it's aping the spirit of Ozploitation, an aesthetic homage greatly enhanced by its scorched desert setting and frequent references to nature, like Stan gleefully urinating on an ant and a slowly decaying apple with a bite mark that resembles an evil, clownish smile. I was particularly reminded of Mario Andreacchio's 1986 Aussie excess classic, Fair Game, in which a woman is similarly tormented by game hunters in a desert setting before striking back, and there are a couple of moments in Fargeat's film that make me think she has to have been influenced by Andreacchio's.

revenge matilda lutz

In recent years we've seen a female filmmaker led revival of the rape-revenge thriller with movies like The Soska Sisters' American Mary, Mouly Surya's Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts and Natalia Leite's M.F.A, and it's probably the future of this disreputable genre, as few male filmmakers feel comfortable portraying such an act today. Yet whether directed by men or women, and regardless of how commendable or not their intentions may be, rape-revenge movies always make it easy for any right-thinking viewer to side with the female victim turned avenger. They're designed to make us pump our fists in the air when some David Hess lookalike gets his knob torn off. Fargeat's film is far more fascinating as she's set up her movie in such a way that once Jen's campaign of violence gets underway, we begin to view her attackers as the film's victims. Fargeat's camerawork and editing works to make us fear for their well being on an internal if not external level. She splits up the three antagonists and uses the desert landscape to increase their vulnerability, and even employs that classic trope, the shower scene, but with a potential male victim running around naked and afraid. Making her film's male villains appear so pathetic empowers her heroine in a way rarely seen in this brand of movie.

Conversely, Fargeat shoots Jen in much the same manner '80s action movies framed their musclebound male heroes. The dirt of the desert turns Jen's hair from blond to black, and her bikini similarly takes on dark tones, her ash covered features giving the sense that she's risen from hell. In a memorable moment of triumph, Jen stands atop a cliff as Fargeat's camera curls around her body like a snake, taking in every sinew of her exposed flesh; but rather than simply ogling her figure, Fargeat is forcing us to admire her heroine's physicality in the same way we might Stallone or Schwarzenegger's. As we watch Jen take her revenge onscreen, we're also seeing a female filmmaker exact vengeance on a genre that like most exploitation fans, she probably feels guilty about enjoying.

Revenge is in UK/ROI cinemas May 11th.