Brilliantly self-assured debut feature that serves as a reminder for just how visceral cinema can be.
Early on, something happens in Coralie Fargeat’s thriller Revenge that’s so implausible, so difficult to let pass as a believable turn of events in an up-to-that-point realistic film, that it’s likely to divide audiences. There will be those who know that they’re watching a movie, therefore a fantasy, and those who reject the entire film based on its implausible inciting incident (you know who you are).
Fortunately, if you can suspend disbelief for the first act, you’ll be primed to enjoy one of most vibrant, violent and intelligent rape-revenge slasher movies of the decade.
We’re introduced to Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) with a series of lude, objectifying closeups of her slender, bronze body. She’s staying at an ultra-modern home lined with pristine white interiors (just begging to be splashed with buckets of blood) in the middle of the desert, engaged in an affair with the handsomely bland Richard (Kevin Janssens). This is one of the few films I’ve seen in which the underwhelming performances don’t drag down the film. Neither Janssens or Lutz are particularly compelling performers on their own, but under Fargeat’s meticulous and brilliant camera eye—she always seems one step ahead of the actors and two steps ahead of the audience—they become utterly captivating.
Fargeat pretty soon subverts her own objectifying closeups when Richard leaves the house and Jen is left with the lecherous and pervy Dimitri (Vincent Colombe). Something terrible happens, leaving Jen broken and humiliated, in response to which Richard reveals his psychopathic commitment to self-preservation. What starts out as an exploitation flick promising blood and bodies becomes a relentless, physically exhausting journey towards rebranding, both for the character and the film itself.
All throughout, the camera gets right up against its subjects, filming a chocolate bar being eaten as if it were a super-slomo highlight reel in a tennis match, ants crawling over an apple core, and the desert sun burning so bright you might expect it to start burning holes in the screen. Robrecht Heyveart’s cinematography is always drawing you closer, getting you more intimate with everything under the camera’s gaze.
When things turn bloody, the effect is almost overwhelming. A barefoot steps on glass and, in my screening during the closing night of Monster Fest 2017, the audience grimaces in pain; a bullet is shot through a shoulder and viewers instinctively reach for their arms.
Fargeat enacts the visceral effects of cinema remarkably well—and not just for a debut feature. She does it better than most filmmakers trying to display violence on screen today, and she still finds time to turn the genre on its head.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
Monster Fest 2017 ran from November 23 – 26. More reviews and coverage from the festival to come.