REVENGE (2018)

Review by LL Soares

The first scene in the movie REVENGE shows an expanse of desert, and what looks like, from a distance, a man kneeling down in a position that makes you think he’s about to be beheaded. Except, he’s alone. A helicopter flies overhead, and we never see the figure again.

That helicopter carries Richard (Kevin Janssens, who looks a little bit like American actor Aaron Eckhart), a man who’s obviously quite rich, and a younger girl named Jen (Matilda Lutz, who looks a tiny bit like Jessica Alba), who’s listening to ear buds and sucking on a lolipop. The pilot shows interest, and Richard obviously laps this up, since he knows he’s got a hot girlfriend, and that other men are always salivating over her. This kind of thing no doubt makes Richard feel more like a man.

They enter a fancy, colorful house in the middle of the desert. There’s a deep swimming pool, and lavish décor. As I mentioned, Richard is most certainly a man of means, and this confirms it. He calls his wife and they discuss their children. Richard is here in this house, on the pretense that he is meeting two buddies of his to go hunting. In the desert? I’m not really sure what they plan to hunt, but there are a few strange things like this in REVENGE, so let’s just go along for the ride, shall we?

As soon as they get to that pretty house in the middle of nowhere, Richard and Jen go to the bedroom. These two people are obviously into each other. Richard has come to this place early, before his hunting friends, so he can have a little fun time alone with his mistress.

But while she’s there, his buddies arrive early as well. They are Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede). Richard wasn’t planning on having his friends meet his mistress, but these things happen. They spend the night drinking and taking drugs and at one point Jen dances with Stan, in a style that recalls dirty dancing more than a waltz. Richard puts up with it, until he doesn’t, and whisks Jen away to the bedroom again. Watching them dance got him all worked up!

The next morning, Richard has gone to resolve an issue with his friends’ passports, leaving them alone with his girlfriend. Stan is still horny from the night before, but it’s clear Jen didn’t think anything of it. When Stan starts to get aggressive, she tries to reject him nicely, but he’s not having it. Things escalate to rape. Dimitri, who is fat and eats a lot, turns up the television so he doesn’t have to hear the screams.

When Richard comes back and finds out what’s happened while he was away, you’d expect him get angry, and he seems to at first, but it’s clear he’s going to side with his friends on this one, and tries to pay for her silence. When she gets upset and makes a threat to call his wife, things get really ugly.

Jen ends up dead. Or, she should be. But somehow, it doesn’t take.

She then goes about getting the titular revenge on the men who have abused her.

The title is kind of bland. There are other movies that have been called REVENGE. There was even a TV show on ABC starring Emily VanCamp. But this isn’t a network TV show. One giveaway is there’s an awful lot of blood.

Remember my saying that not everything makes sense? The most obvious example is how Jen avoids death. It’s not very logical, and yet, it happens, and the movie continues. Jen has to deal with a very ugly wound, and pretty much saves herself with a lighter, a beer can, and some peyote. Her survival doesn’t take the movie in a dark fantasy direction, but it’s not exactly realistic either. And she sure is active for someone who has had such a horrible accident.

Then she starts killing off the men who are pursuring her (once they realize her body has been moved).  It’s satisfying to see the ways she gets revenge. So, the title isn’t pointless, but it could have been more creatively named.

REVENGE was directed by French filmmaker Carolie Fargeat, and it’s her feature film debut. Previously, she made a couple of short films and directed a TV miniseries. As a first feature, it’s impressive, and Ms. Fargeat clearly has a bright future ahead of her. Despite those issues where it’s a little hard to suspend disbelief, the movie still works. You can overlook the flaws in the moment, because it’s so well made. Fargeat also wrote the screenplay, by the way.

I’ve been a fan of French horror films for awhile now, after seeing such excellent movies as HIGH TENSION (2003), INSIDE (2007), and MARTYRS (2008). REVENGE continues this “new wave” of French horror. Actually, it’s more like a thriller, but there’s all that blood I mentioned.

Jen kills her tormentors off one by one, until it’s a showdown in that fancy house between her and the last man standing. At this point, the walls and floors are pretty much painted red. I’m impressed at how these new French directors aren’t squeamish about using lots of fake blood.

There are other reasons to recommend it. The cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert is exceptional, having a good time with the movie’s flare for bright colors. There’s a green apple early on that stands out, the striking décor of the desert house, the gold and green of ants shown often in close-up. And all that blood. Hayvaert uses the colors like paints from a palette and makes it all quite beautiful. The music, mostly by “Rob” (and Robin Coudert) is also very effective. Especially the scenes where the menacing synth music plays as a ballet of death unfolds onscreen for our entertainment.

The cast is perfect. Matilda Lutz is steamy and seductive at first, and then believably pissed off and vengeful. She has been wronged and it will not stand. I love movies like that, where women strike back at violent men. Ms. Lutz was previously in some French films and TV shows, but she’s already appeared in some American films, including the horror film RINGS (2017), the recent reboot of that franchise that also starred Johnny Galecki. I’m sure there will be more American films in her future.

The men, for their part, are equally strong in their roles. They do a good job making us hate them.

While REVENGE got a limited theatrical release, it didn’t play anywhere near me, so I had to get it off iTunes. I believe it will also be showing soon on the Shudder channel, for those of you who subscribe. It’s worth seeing, especially if you dig these kind of bloody revenge flicks. Of which, I have to admit, I’m a fan.

I give it three knives. It has a nice momentum, and despite its flaws, it kept me entertained thoroughly throughout. I would have given it a higher score if it had tried to make a tiny bit more sense, though.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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(Note: although REVENGE was first shown in 2017 in film festivals, I’m using the U.S. release date of May 2018).

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