*Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape and sexual assault*
I’ve never been into rape revenge films.
Sexual violence has always been the one thing that I can’t stomach in movies. From a purely horror story standpoint, I’ve always thought of rape and sexual assault as the lowest hanging fruit that a writer/director can use to scare their audience. As women we already have to go about our daily lives with the very real understanding that, quite literally at any moment, we could be raped; therefore, I don’t like to spend time consuming media where that is the driving force behind the entire story.
But then Shudder added their exclusive film, Revenge, and I was intrigued.
The synopsis of the film was vague enough that, while I knew the implication was rape, it drew me in. Director Coralie Fargeat talked about the film in an interview with Mick Garris on his podcast Post Mortem. In the interview Fargeat and Garris both agreed that the traditional rape revenge formula of 90+ minutes of the female character being tortured with 10-20 minutes at the end of her getting payback is a lot to stomach. That’s where Revenge deviates from the beaten path.
The main character Jen, played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, arrives in a remote and unnamed desert to spend a long weekend with her married lover, Richard who is played by Kevin Janssens. When her Richard’s friends arrive for their hunting trip early things take a turn for the worst. After one of the friends assaults Jen, a chase ensues through the dessert that will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
The thing that I really admire about the way that Fargeat handles the assault and the subsequent chase does not make the viewer feel worse at the end. The amount of pure torture most women in rape revenge sagas go through is hard to stomach, and tend to just leave me feeling dirty and gross by the end.
In Revenge the audience is introduced to Jen as a stereotypical horror movie floozy. She’s sleeping with a married man, she wears risque clothing, she flits with her lover’s friends, and uses her sexuality to her benefit. However, the moment the viewer can tell the assault is coming, she is thrust into our sympathies. It’s one of those moments that you really don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away from. We get a brief couple of scenes in which Jen has to deal with the aftermath of the assault; we watch as she lays in bed, staring blankly ahead of herself, unable to wrap her head around what happens.
Our sympathy for Jen quickly turns into murderous rage for the three men whose mercy she is, seemingly, at. Her lover returns back to the house, and finds out what has happened, he rages at the man who has raped Jen but refuses to let her go home. Instead of truly taking action, he offers his mistress a large some of money. After Jen refuses and threatens to expose their affair, Richard slaps Jen and she runs away as the three men chase her.
That, in my opinion, is where Revenge truly begins.
The cat and mouse game in the dessert devolves into a bizarre and almost fantasy like sequence as Jen deals with bodily injuries, dehydration, exhaustion, and emotional trauma while trying to get back at the men. The social and gender commentary in this movie are beautifully incorporated into a nail biting epic as Jen becomes a proverbial superhero out to save herself.
One of the most poignant and stomach churning scenes is the conversation that leads up to Jen’s assault. The man who rapes her tells Jen that she was coming on to him earlier in the weekend, and that she clearly wants what is about to happen. This is an all too familiar excuse used in rape and sexual assault cases all the time. Everything from “If she didn’t want it she wouldn’t dress that way” to “If you hadn’t been drinking so much it wouldn’t have happened.” Women have always been blamed for their own rape and sexual abuse, and Fargeat does an incredible job of taking that horrible reality and flipping it onto the men who truly deserve what they get.
I highly recommend this film to those that are able to stomach a brief scene of sexual violence.