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Revenge slices and dices genre tropes, working within an exploitation framework while adding a timely -- yet never less than viscerally thrilling -- feminist spin.
Revenge slices and dices genre tropes, working within an exploitation framework while adding a timely -- yet never less than viscerally thrilling -- feminist spin.
All Critics (115)
| Top Critics (22)
| Fresh (106)
| Rotten (9)
With her stylish and bloody rape-revenge thriller, French first-timer Coralie Fargeat turns a disputable subgenre upside down.
What happens next is expected-a roaring rampage of revenge, with each of the three hunters confronted like a video game boss-but Fargeat has some fun tricks to deploy.
Revenge won't be an experience every viewer can handle, but as a piece of extreme horror, it's an intelligent and flashy debut.
If you usually find the genre icky and exploitative, try this one-but only if you've got the stomach for an abattoir's worth of blood in a single movie.
Gore-soaked and transgressive, "Revenge" will test your stomach's mettle - in a variety of ways.
Revenge is a bloody middle finger ... a kick in the balls with a feminine combat boot. You've been warned, gents.
Even its plot holes and inconsistencies cease to become much of a point. "Revenge" is just that satisfying to watch as [Coralie] Fargeat uses genre staples and gender expectations to give us a gruesomely satisfying thrill ride.
With a pared down plot and only four characters present for any substantial amount of time, this film relies entirely on force of personality. Thankfully, it has that in spades.
Overwhelming emotions and feminist prowess are drawn from the visceral, agonizing, and often-cartoonish images that hold this sick n' ferocious film together.
Matilda Lutz is clearly a stand-out in an exciting twist on a well-worn genre.
What Revenge lacks in believable biology it makes up for in style and highly satisfying action beats.
Nothing about Fargeat's approach to this tale is the least bit nuanced or subdued, because said tale practically demands a primal scream.
Coralie Fargeat's Revenge is, from the outside, a pretty standard exercise in retaliation with some bloody gore and satisfying moments of, well...revenge. More than this though, the way it breaks between who Matilda Lutz's Jen is and how she is treated and who she becomes and ultimately treats those that mistreated her is a fantasy that, if one picks up on the bigger ideas, makes this neon-colored, techno-scored tale of vengeance much less of a fun diversion (which it can totally be taken as if that's all you want from it). More, Fargeat (who also wrote the screenplay) reminds us of how easy it is for people to be taken advantage of and how much of a shame it is that justice is rarely ever served-properly or not.
Fargeat, along with Jerome Eltabet and Bruno Safar, edit the shit out of this thing as well and lend those "there if you look for them" layers that much more poignancy.
MAD TO THE MAX - My Review of REVENGE (4 Stars)
Reminiscent of the stamp George Miller put on action cinema with MAD MAX in 1979, writer-director Coralie Fargeat announces herself with the bloody, exploitative, well-past-midnight movie glory of her feature debut with REVENGE. Although it owes a huge debt to Miller and his over-saturated desert landscapes and his gift for near wordless storytelling, REVENGE tweaks the genre by doubling down on the stuff you shield your eyes from, resulting in longer shots of gore which descends into a literal blood bath. Consider yourself either warned or primed depending on your taste.
Set in an unnamed American desert, the film introduces us to Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as she hops off a helicopter with her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens). In case you haven't figured out that Jen is the Lolita type, she dons sunglasses and sucks on a lollipop. She's a pouty, spoiled LA woman, addicted to her iPhone and used to trading on her sexiness. Richard, a married man, has taken Jen to a hyper-stylized house in the middle of nowhere to have a lot of sex (Pssssst! These two ridiculously attractive specimens get naked a LOT in this film). Of course, trouble comes in the form of two of Richard's friends, Stan and Dimitri, who show up one day with rifles in hand. There to accompany Richard on a hunting trip, they get instantly distracted by Jen, male gazing the shit out of her, which leads to brutal sexual violence.
Fargeat understands the fragility of the male ego and exploits it well in deft scenes showing how each of the men feel slighted by a woman who for so long has kept her true power under wraps. She has learned how to subjugate herself to win over men, but now she has to find much deeper inner strength in order to survive when the men leave her for dead. Let me skip back for a second, for when I describe the violence as brutal, I haven't truly explained that the manner in which they leave her isn't for the faint of heart. I won't spoil it here, but impalement and its aftermath play a big part. It's horrific and Fargeat allows a visual reminder of it to stay onscreen for most of the film.
As the title implies, Jen then spends the rest of the film trying to stay alive and get back at these three terrible men. We witness the birth of a warrior, perhaps not as assertive as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley or as tormented as Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, but she's a worthy successor. Fargeat forces us to rethink the girly girls of the world, often dismissed for lacking depth and ingenuity, and through Jen gives us cause for celebration.
Although some of the dialogue is in French, the subtitle-averse shouldn't worry as this is pure visual filmmaking of the highest order. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert and Editors Jerome Eltabet, Bruno Safar and Fargeat herself make every shot, every transition count. It's cinematic candy until it turns excessively bloody. Shots of glass being pulled out of feet or various mutilations go on for so long as to feel grossly hilarious. There's a great set piece involving a self-made tattoo which you won't soon forget. You can feel Fargeat playing with you, taunting you, and daring you to stare at the screen.
Truth be told, with a story as simple as this one, it overstays its welcome with its 108 minute running time. This type of grindhouse thriller should have clocked in at a lean 90 minutes, but it's a minor criticism for something so energetic as this film. Plus, Fargeat has an interesting feminist perspective which puts other exploitation movies to shame. She's playing with the same tool box but applying her unique voice and I imagine I'll be watching her films from behind my hands for a long time to come.
Can you tell a rape-revenge movie from a feminist perspective? The lazy storyteller or analyst would say movies like I Spit on Your Grave are feminist because it involves a wronged woman wrecking righteous vengeance on her almost-assuredly male attackers. However, if you've seen I Spit on your Grave, or its remake, or any genre thriller where rape is treated as the inciting incident, you'll know these movies are hardly feminist. The protagonists typically exist to be objectified, then traumatized, then transformed into sadistic killers. It's not exactly the most nuanced or dignified portraits of sexual violence. French writer/director Coralie Fargeat attempts to give this tired trope a feminist spin with Revenge, a thrilling, grueling, wildly bloody good time. It's a thriller with real bite.
Jen (Matilda Lutz) is enjoying a vacation with her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens), who also happens to be a married family man. She's lounging around in a deserted bungalow for Richard's hunting getaway, a regular vacation he shares with his other pals Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede). Jen makes herself at home and Stan, in particular, lusts over her. While Richard is away, Stan attacks and rapes Jen. Richard offers to set her up with a new life in another country but Jen refuses, demanding to go home. She runs off and is pushed off a cliff by Richard. Miraculously, she survives, and from there the three hunters try to track her down and cover up their misdeeds.
It's a simple story but Fargeat has an uncommonly sharp command of her craft, knowing what exploitation elements to double down on and when it's best to show restraint. This allows Revenge to unfold with a natural sense of pacing and direction while still achieving a high level of thrills and satisfaction. I appreciated that Jen doesn't suddenly become an expert merchant of death. This isn't like 2013's You're Next (though the final act starts to dip into that film's black comedy of absurdity) where the damsel ends up secretly being a highly-skilled and highly-trained warrior. In Revenge, the self-entitled creeps think they have the upper hand throughout, constantly underestimating the resourcefulness and will power of Jen. Very early in the second act, the three men are on the hunt for Jen, so the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse thriller with each new set piece being its own engrossing mini-movie, adopting varying degrees of tone. There's a lovely A-to-B-to-C sense of progression to the plot as Jen confronts a new set of obstacles, all the while being hunted by three cocky sexual predators. There's great joy in rooting for a worthy underdog and also watching villains robbed of their own joy.
Revenge easily taps into our desire to see justice befall some very bad people, and maximum carnage ensues. This is an outstandingly gory movie and the first I can recall in quite some time that genuinely forced me to avert my sight. Fargeat's camera gets you up close and personal to gashes and seeping wounds, enough to see layers of tissue and fat, and her camera lingers on the bodily destruction, forcing us to squirm in discomfort. It's highly effective and miraculously doesn't feel gratuitous. When the camera dwells on Jen's wounds, it's about her perseverance and strength. When the camera dwells on the wounds of the gents, it's about the extent of their outlandish punishment. There is a hallucinogenic series of gonzo, gory kills meant to goose the audience for extra fun, and it had me laughing after the third daffy dream sequence-within-a-dream sequence. The final act ramps up the bloodletting to an almost comic degree. Characters are literally slipping and sliding on the floor from the copious amount of blood spilled.
This is a gruesome movie to watch but Fargeat knows what an audience wants to see and squirm over and what they don't. This is typified in how the rape is portrayed. For the beginning of the first act, the camera seems to adopt the perspective of voyeur, often perfectly framing portions of Lutz' body, notably her posterior. The men take turns leering at her but so has the audience at this point. It affects us with the male gaze. Then an increasingly agitated Stan harasses Jen. This uncomfortable sit-down is excruciatingly tense because we're waiting for him to pounce, but it also has an effective power because it illustrates the daily minefield women experience deflecting the unwanted attention and affections of men. She's desperately looking for safe ways out of the conversation that still save the man's ego, a tricky navigation so as to not upset one's toxic masculinity. The ensuring rape happens off screen as the camera leaves the scene with Dimitri who even turns up the TV volume to drown out Jen's panicked screams. For anyone who's sat through these kinds of movies, they often glorify the horror of the rape and can readily cross a line into icky intended titillation. Leaving rape off screen is practically admirable.
Revenge is a cut above its genre ilk thanks to its strongly developed suspense sequences. Each set piece or confrontation presents itself in a memorable and different manner, requiring our heroine to use a different set of survival skills. Fargeat has a terrific sense of space, allowing the audience to understand the distances between the two participants. This allows the tension to simmer and boil as directed. Take for instance that bloody finale, which has an extended and very tense portion that revolves around two characters literally chasing one another around a circular hallway trying to get the jump on one another. That sequence doesn't work without crisp editing and a proper sense of space. The director also knows when to draw out a scene with long takes and a wandering camera that makes you nervous about what's going on where we don't see. There are some wonderful moments of anticipatory dread to amplify the suspense. Fargeat's smooth camerawork and sense of pacing allows the suspense to nicely develop, as she draws out the dangers for Jen and finds organic complications per scenario.
The actors ably perform their parts and Lutz (Rings) is a future star-in-the-making. A lot of physical acting is required from her and she is highly persuasive in every moment. Her happiness early on is infectious, her discomfort is grueling, and her desperate escapes feel frantic and wild, more a realistic human being fighting for their life than as some slick movie character coasting on a divine sense of cool. Her second half onslaught of titular vengeance still manages to keep the character grounded and mortal; she suffers setbacks and grievous injuries during these fights too, yet she endures. The other gentlemen give strong performances displaying different degrees of toxic masculinity, entitlement, and hapless weaselness when exposed. Stan, who previously had been enjoying his turn as an unpredictable threat in preparation to raping Jen, becomes a big blubbering weakling. Belgian actor Kevin Janssens reminded me a lot of a younger Aaron Eckhart. The movie is certainly elevated a few notches thanks to the actors giving you strong rooting points.
Revenge is a grisly, gory, and wild genre movie that will appeal to fans of indie thrillers but also extend behind that loyal clientele. Writer/director Coralie Fargeat demonstrates an innate understanding of not just the genre but the mechanics of suspense as well, engineering and executing terrific suspense sequences while keeping her familiar narrative fresh. I loved her attention to details (not just the gory ones) like the fact that Jen has these pink star earrings for the entire run of her vengeance. Fargeat understands this genre and its audience but also brings an empathetic, feminine perspective to our heroine's awful plight. I was impressed how grounded this movie remained with its characters even as they were losing a blood bank's worth of inventory. Even if you are more on the squeamish side when it comes to blood and gore, I'd recommend Revenge as an above average thriller that only becomes more satisfying in execution.
Nate's Grade: B+
Independent cinema can easily go under the radar to those who aren't all that invested in the film world, but also due to the fact that the film itself may be slightly too gruesome or weird. Personally, I would use both of those two words to describe Revenge to someone who is a mainstream audience member, who really can't get into anything abstract. From being a political statement to just plain crazy, this is a film that holds nothing back in terms of its message and the overall goal of being a satisfying revenge-fuelled flick. Although saying this film isn't for everyone would be the understatement of the year, here's why I'd recommend Revenge to hardcore film fanatics, or those who are literally up for anything when it comes to watching movies.
Revenge follows Jen after she has been raped and left for dead in the middle of the desert. The married man who she had chosen to sleep with runs off with his two accomplices after the event. Right off the bat, there will be some unbelievable scenarios that you have to let slide, due to how gruesome her fall was. Her death sequence is horribly graphic and would've killed anyone else in an instant, but she somehow survives and finds herself hunting down these men. As I mentioned, this can be quite the unrealistic film at times, but the plot of the film itself feels very real.
Director Coralie Fargeat clearly wanted to make a statement that relates to today's day and age and wasn't willing to stop short of anything, but pure insanity. From visuals that left a lasting impact in my mind, to being genuinely shocked at how realistic everything was seeming throughout my entire viewing experience, I found myself almost wanting to throw up at times. No, that's not a detriment to the film itself, but rather a large compliment. It's not very often that I can feel this traumatized after watching a movie, while also feeling incredibly satisfied at the same time.
Matilda Lutz stars as Jen, and her performance here is out of this world. She completely disappears into this role, going from a very obviously stereotypical woman who sleeps with rich men, to the absolutely ruthless revenge-fuelled person who will stop at nothing to bring these men down. I was incredibly immersed in her mindset and found myself helping her along in my mind as the film progressed.
The way long takes and editing styles are utilized in order to further the story in either an interesting or even twisted way was breathtaking to me. Abstract imagery or takes that would bore the average moviegoer are usually left out of mainstream entertainment in order to please everyone, but movies like this deserve to be seen by more people. Personally, even though it may be very hard to watch at times, this is easily one of my favorite films of the year so far.
In the end, Revenge blends the very obvious tropes that a revenge flick presents, with a nice mixture of abstract, violent, and downright unnerving. From visuals that will make the squeamish tune out immediately to the overall look of the film being off-putting to those who wish to watch a generic thriller, all I can say is that if you know this type of movie isn't for you, then please stay far away from it. If you're looking for a nice spin on the genre, with terrific performances and one hell of a third act, then strap in, because I can't recommend this one enough. Revenge is a crazy thriller that is as relentless, entertaining, and sometimes impossible to sit through but wrapped up in a perfect little bow.
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