REVENGE (2018, Coralie Fargeat)
Fair warning: it’s hard to fully analyze this gnarly, thrilling, disgusting gore-fest without spoiling nearly every plot detail (of which there aren’t very many), so don’t read the rest of this if you don’t want the surprises revealed.
In the grand tradition of feminist rape-revenge exploitation thrillers like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and MS. 45, this explosive new entry also calls to mind French torture porn like MARTYRS, INSIDE, and HAUTE TENSION, thanks to its excessive violence, body horror, and the fact that every inch of the frame in the back half is drenched in blood. And like those boot-to-the-throat horrors, this one isn’t exactly subtle: Jen is introduced as a pure sex object to lull the male audience into a voyeuristic drooling stupor, then the shocking rape and attack turns the tables, and Jen proves a far more vicious hunter than the men who came to this desert to do just that.
After being penetrated by Stan, Jen is penetrated by a tree branch through the abdomen, and the film’s centerpiece sequence is the drawn-out, stomach-churning self-surgery Jen performs in order to seal and heal that penetration. So what does she do next? She fights Stan and penetrates his foot with a shard of glass (which he painfully — and also for an uncomfortable duration — extracts to ultimate exhilarating relief) before putting a shotgun shell through his brain. Then there’s Richard, the end boss of awful: Jen’s ostensible [married] boyfriend who pushed her off a cliff and defended her attackers rather than help her out. (These three guys embody every bit of evil men do — a rapist, a murderer, and Dimitri, who sins by allowing the rape to occur, even turning up the TV volume to drown out her screams). Richard has to spend his final moments on earth totally naked, the dehumanizing image of vulnerability he deserves after what he’s done. Like I said, not subtle.
Then again, subtlety is overrated in grindhouse. Fargeat’s style is mightily impressive — she uses bright, gorgeous color timing (props to DP Robrecht Heyvaert as well) and ultra-sharp images to make everything pop. There’s no need for vague hues, soft focus, or shadow here: most of the violence happens in broad daylight, the bright blood a jolt against white walls and yellow sand (the slo-mo shots of the blood dripping onto an ant is like if John Woo directed MICROCOSMOS). Her editing style reminds me of Tom Tykwer and Tony Scott, but her eye is more critical of the male gaze. She’s a major talent, evident from the opening shot — we’re looking at a beautiful Moroccan desert, unblemished… until we see a speck of black in the center of the frame. Is that dirt on the lens? No, it’s a helicopter coming right at us. And such is Fargeat’s world view: humanity is a speck of dirt sullying the beauty of mother nature.
Of course there’s a lot of absurdity here — Jen is more of a fantastic superhero than a person by the end of this (no mortal could suffer losing gallons of blood and wandering 36 hours without water; not to mention that when she treats her wound she only closes the exit wound, while the entry hole disappears on its own I guess?) and it’s hard to find three guys more cartoonishly awful than this trio. But the point is made. Women always fight back.