Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
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…packs more of an impact than any 10 random ‘straight-to-disc’ titillating terrors.
The rape-revenge subgenre is, as its title incontrovertibly indicates, not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean this lurid and confronting corner of the genre ghetto doesn’t occasionally yield treasures. As evidence, take in debut writer/director Carolie Fargeat’s contribution, which sees Matilda Lutz’s sex kitten transform herself into a brutal and branded engine of retribution after being left for dead in the desert by her married boyfriend and his hunting buddies.
“Left in the desert” is playing it too coy – Lutz’s Jen is turfed off a cliff and left impaled like a bug on a tree branch, forcing her to painfully free herself before proceeding with the violent business at hand. Fargeat films her impalement and subsequent torturous escape in agonising, close-up detail – perhaps standing in for Jen’s earlier rape at the hands of the oafish Stan (Vincent Colombe), one of the few instances where the camera cuts away from violence and horror.
Every other incident of bodily violation is framed with crystal clarity, queasily constructing scenes of shocking brutality with meticulous, often beautiful precision. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert’s bright, eye-popping palette and strong, stark compositions reference the cinema du look of earlier French provocateurs Luc Besson and Leos Carax, while Jen’s hallucinatory sojourn in the desert as she tends her wounds with heated metal and a peyote anaesthetic before embarking on the inevitable roaring rampage sits alongside any number of Acid Westerns, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo.
Still, like all good survival horror films, Revenge keeps its focus firmly on the body and all the horrible things that can happen to it. Fargeat willfully and transgressively fetishises Lutz’s lithe form, her camera lingering on the curve of her buttocks and tanned tummy in the film’s opening sequences (is it still male gaze with a female director?), before the crucible of pain transforms her into a wholly different icon of feminine strength and rage: scarred, bronzed, armed to the teeth and hellbent on revenge. It’s territory that’s been mapped before – think about Sarah Connor’s transformation between The Terminator and Judgement Day or, better still, Mario Andreacchio’s 1986 Ozploitation schlocker Fair Game – but Fargeat’s brazen artfulness presents it in a different and far fresher context.
In terms of narrative, there are few surprises – films of this type tend to hit the same procedural beats, with little variation. However, what Revenge does have that sets it apart from the pack is a bottomless reserve of well-earned rage and the artistic temperance to channel it to best effect. It’s easy to imagine a sleazier, grimier, version of this film; however, Fargeat’s sheer authorial brio to shoot pain and torture and murder not just artfully but beautifully, means that Revenge packs more of an impact than any 10 random ‘straight-to-disc’ titillating terrors.