As Halloween draws nearer, it’s time to take a serious look at 2018’s horror movie offerings. Steven Allison starts by discussing Revenge, a tale which throws female vengeance into the spotlight.
October is here, and we find ourselves on an eerie trail through a dark, moonlit forest to some spooky Halloween festivities. Largely a favourite with our North American counterparts, this holiday inspires countless folks into a pumpkin-carving, apple-bobbing frenzy. Many a costume will be donned, many a trick played, and many a treat thrown up. I adore my annual sugar coma just as much as the next soul, however fancy-dress and jack-o’-lanterns just aren’t my bag.
For me, the Halloween season means making a wilful journey into the realm of blood and terror. For those of us who live to recoil in fear or disgust, this time of year is all about what horror film-makers have to offer.
As a veteran fan of the genre, I’m rarely disappointed by the standard of the industry’s offerings. Some flatliners aside, I’m usually astonished at the ingenuity and creativity demonstrated every year by writers and directors. With some phenomenal titles released this year, the bar is once more set high.
These days, I’m drawn less to the often-formulaic scares served up by big production companies and our friends at Netflix and prefer to wander off the usual horror trail. I tend to gravitate towards independent, outside-of-the-box films – especially those capable of challenging boundaries and incorporating uncomfortable themes. A lot of such themes are being covered right now, one of which is revenge. I can’t get enough of revenge movies, and luckily for me, 2018 has been an outstanding year for those.
Revenge, brought to us by French writer and director Coralie Fargeat, is one example. This is the first in a series of recent films focused on retribution that I’ll be discussing in the lead-up to Halloween. I chose to kick off with this flick because its timeliness is inch-perfect given the notable rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Both at their zenith, these anti-sexual assault and female empowerment movements have turned the public discourse on women’s issues on its head, pulling the unique problems faced by women into the limelight.
Making her feature debut with Revenge, Fargeat brings us a savagely apt tale of a woman bent on avenging her rape. It follows Jen (Matilda Lutz), who had been looking forward to a romantic and luxurious trip with her wealthy, married boyfriend, Richard (Kevin Janssens). That is until their solitude is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Richard’s sleazy, predatory friends, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède). Jen keeps her cool at their presence, but the following day, things take a sour turn when she’s left alone with the two men. The situation escalates rapidly and violently, culminating in a brutal rape that leaves Jen traumatised. She survives the attack, and the remainder of the film descends into a tense, gruesome cat-and-mouse battle of wits as she fulfils her unrelenting agenda: revenge.
Now, let’s be clear – I’m not proposing that all sexually abused or harassed women seek payback in the same gory way as the film’s protagonist. Rather, I’m suggesting that this fiery and disturbing, yet gratifying depiction of revenge emphasizes that women do not, will not, and should not accept subjugation.
At first, Fargeat dangles an attractive, coquettish, and barely clothed woman in front of viewers. As we judge the proverbial book by its cover, she tugs the stereotype away. And we certainly learn our lesson, watching our preconceptions upended as Jen steps into the role of death-or-glory combatant. The transformation from victim to victor, as pleasure descends into depravity, is unshakeably plausible. This masterfully acted plunge into perversion is reflected by a rotting, half-eaten apple seen throughout the film, as well as a perceptible shift from pigeonholed colours – including baby pink and powder blue – to more muted, bleak tones as the story progresses.
Revenge, which first aired in the Midnight Madness section of the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, shoves genre tropes into a blender, deviating wildly from the norm of revenge movies. It runs along at a perfect pace, hooking the audience with artistic shots, and delivering a justifiably shocking and visceral experience, articulately peppered with feminism.
Skilful screenwriting and direction, combined with a masterful and considered performance by Lutz, make for a colourful journey – full of twists and turns – through Fargeat’s take on rape-revenge. The film’s fantasy element shows through the process by which Jen seeks retribution, and a lot needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. In no way, though, does that detract from the triumph of this story. The conclusion doesn’t disappoint either. It’s exactly what I’d been hoping for from the outset. To those men out there who feel that women are theirs to do with as they please, let this badass heroine and her take-down prowess be a lesson to you.