Monday, April 15, 2019

Best Served Desert Hot

Slowly but surely, the last few years have opened up some much-needed discussion on giving more women opportunity behind the camera. Perhaps nowhere does that matter more than horror, where females are so often mishandled, even by well-meaning male writers and directors who simply don't get it. Perhaps that's why Coralie Fargeat has received so much attention for her brutal entry in the rape-revenge genre. 

Quick Plot: Jen is spending a weekend in her married rich boyfriend Richard's isolated home, conveniently located in the middle of the desert. When his hunting buddies show up a day early, things get awkward, but one evening of sexy dancing seems to cool things down.

The next day, Richard leaves Jen alone with the lecherous Stan and cowardly Dimitri. It doesn't take the afternoon sun for Stan to rape Jen, with Dimitri choosing to let it happen while he takes a dip in the lap pool. Richard returns annoyed but pragmatic, trying to buy Jen's silence with a bank deposit and ticket to Canada. 

She's not into it. Jen tries to seize some control by threatening to call Richard's wife, prompting a heavy slap. In shock, Jen takes off barefoot, sprinting through the canyons until Richard pushes her off a cliff and stomach-first onto a sharp branch. Left for dead, Jen rouses herself up with some ingenuity involving a handy cigarette lighter. 

These dudes have no idea what they're in for. 

Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, Revenge is a pretty straightforward thriller that lives up to its simple title. The hunted becomes the hunter, and a creative, smart, and incredibly resourceful one at that. Rape/revenge is a story we've seen told hundreds of times, but Revenge has some subtle tricks that make it worth discussing.

Yes, the first is that we have a female behind the camera, telling a story typically doused in a sleazy male gaze. I'll defend the original I Spit On Your Grave from its claims of misogyny (it's much more feminist than its very nature suggests) but yes, a woman telling this story makes a difference. 

Actress Matilda Anne Ingrid Lutz is model-beautiful, and the camera certainly loves her perfect, scantily clad body. But consider how this rape is handled: unlike many a male-directed scene, there's no closeup of a breast or lingering on Lutz's body being violated. While there are certainly cinematic rapes that fully capture the horror of the crime, there are unfortunately even more that manage to (deliberately or not) to turn such a moment into something stimulating. Fargeat's decision is to simply not show it. We get the point, and the opening of the act is enough to fuel everything that happens thereafter. 

I don't know that Revenge is a great or even overly revolutionary film, but the more I consider some of its decisions, the more I see why it's become such a big conversation piece over the last few years. In an era where even a seemingly open-minded indie-promoting studio like Blumhouse makes insanely stupid blunders about discussing women behind the camera, Revenge demonstrates how it makes such a difference. Put this exact script in a man's hands and you'd likely end up with small choices that put a very different spin on the action. 

Richard, as detestable a character as the rapist Stan, is buck naked in his final showdown with Jen. It's a very deliberate choice on Fargeat's end, and while it might seem heavy-handed to some, as a female genre-lover who's spent 37 years watching female bodies abused in ways clearly meant to turn on a specific male audience, I say bring it on.

High Points
I'm a sucker for good nature photography, so the way cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert toys with ants and other desert insects just feels darn cool

Low Points
I can forgive Jen not tying her hair back (I don't think she packed a scrunchie in her underwear) but the idea that she'd keep her oversized dangling earrings on throughout this ordeal just feels a step too far

Lessons Learned
The rules of being lost in a forest and a desert are not the same

Nothing stops blood flow with the efficiency of Saran Wrap, though its thinness might open you up to other dangerous points

Smart women sleep in their sports bras

Revenge is currently available through Shudder, and it's certainly a high recommend. Sure, it treads no real new ground, but it's a fascinating case of how perspective matters. 


  1. I can't say that I've ever a rape scene in a movie that was 'stimulating' but I think not showing it may pack a stronger punch. Like not showing the monster or not showing violence, when set up well it can amp up the horror rather than deflate it.
    Usually I avoid the rape/revenge subgenre... those movies are often bottom feeders, at best.
    Good point about the earrings... the one face-to-face sreenshot had me wondering about those.

    1. It's such a tricky subgenre to do, and when you go wrong, it's plain offensive. I think this one is definitely worth a shot. I just wish it wasn't wearing earrings!