Friday, January 26, 2018

Sundance ’18: Revenge

This country wouldn’t be so violent, if we could just keep out the French. That seems to be the clear take-away from this new vengeance horror-thriller. The director happens to be French too, but she is also a woman—an inescapable fact that gives her a different perspective on the brutality of the New French Extremity movement and the grindhouse tradition of the rape-revenge thriller. Jen, the party girl, is in for a hard time, but she will give back even more than she gets in Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, which screens during this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Jen does not mind that her French lover Richard is married—and neither does he. The important thing is he has money and the right kind of looks to be with her. It is maybe implied that he and his frog hunting buddies work for some sort of merc contractor, but details are kept deliberately vague. Regardless, Richard, Stanley, and Dimitri certainly seem to be comfortable with guns. The latter two were supposed to arrive after Jen had already left the isolated desert vacation home, but Jen is a good sport when they show up early. Unfortunately, Stanley takes her flirtiness as sufficient grounds to rape her during Richard’s absence. When he returns, he is quite disappointed by the state of affairs, but when Jen rebuffs his hush money he decides to kill her instead.

Usually, getting pushed off a cliff and impaled on a jagged tree trunk is enough to kill most people, but not Jen. Despite her hard-partying ways, she instinctively adapts to the hunter-prey cat-and-mouse game. She also discovers the healing power of peyote. Frankly, her epic cauterizing scene has some logical potholes (kids, do not try this at home), but you have to give the film an “A” for effort. However, Revenge really locks in during Jen’s big showdown with Richard, back at the ranch. Let’s just say Fargeat fully capitalizes on the sticky, slippery nature of blood (when it flows and pools).

It is a simple title, but that is what Revenge is all about. Matilda Lutz handles Jen’s transformation from sex kitten to spiritual vengeance warrior as convincingly as anyone could. Kevin Janssens does a similarly credible job with Richard’s evolution from loverboy to stone cold man-hunter. Vincent Colombe basically makes us hate Stanley more and more, taking him from callous attacker to sniveling cowards, but he is certainly effective.

So, where can we build a wall to keep the French out? As this grindhouse subgenre goes, Revenge is about as brutal as it gets, while still preserving the cathartic satisfaction of the payback. Granted, it is a small body of work to judge from, but Revenge still represents a radical departure from Fargeat’s previous work, the relationship-driven science fiction short film, Reality+. Nevertheless, she clearly knows what she is doing. Along with cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, she clearly evokes the look and spirit of “classic” exploitation cinema. Even more intense than Cravioto’s Bound to Vengeance (a.k.a. Reversal), Revenge is recommended for hearty viewers who can handle its graphic extremes, when it screens again tonight (1/26) in Park City, as part of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.