The first 15 minutes of Revenge could easily double as a garish Bacardi ad or a car commercial. The colors are dialed up to maximum saturation, the soundtrack is pulsing with loud dance music, and our star, Jen (Matilda Lutz), is lazily sucking on a lollipop, having been whisked away by helicopter to a remote desert vacation home by her boyfriend, Richard (Kevin Janssens), the married man she’s having an affair with. The director, Coralie Fargeat, knows exactly the kind of male power fantasy she’s packaging for viewers. It feels like Jen is at the center of her own personal party, even though she’s been brought here just for Richard. Visually, Revenge presents as a testosterone-fueled fever dream, but unsurprisingly, it soon turns into a nightmare.
Fargeat’s debut feature is an incredibly stylish exercise in horror filmmaking that runs at one of the nastiest and toughest exploitation subgenres—the rape-revenge drama—and gamely tries to update it for the 21st century. Swerving between thrill-a-minute action and intense, drawn-out suspense, Revenge has all the subtlety of a bazooka to the face, but it’s an arresting watch if you can stomach its most lurid moments of violence.
What’s most impressive about Revenge is how simply yet powerfully it switches the camera’s gaze. The opening scenes, where Jen is presented as a voiceless sex object (she barely has any lines to deliver), are deeply chauvinistic. Then, things begin to shift. A day into Jen and Richard’s getaway, two men with guns show up at the house—but they’re just there for an annual hunting trip, another of Richard’s ridiculous alpha-dog activities. Jen is friendly to both of them, but rebuffs Stan (Vincent Colombe) when he makes a pass at her. So he attacks her.