Revenge, directed by Coralie Fargeat, is a unique, powerful, and often disturbing action film. Released in 2017, this French movie about a woman who is raped, left for dead, and then seeks revenge, is a perfect piece of cinema for our time. Fargeat’s visionary direction and bravery in presenting this story elevates the action girl and the action genre to a whole new level.
The movie opens with a man and his mistress, our hero, arriving for presumably a weekend of sex in a remote desert home. In these first moments, and after her boyfriend’s two hunting buddies arrive, Jen is exploited and diminished by the men and by the camera in classic action-movie style. She is presented not even with the regard given to the typical love interest in a movie; she is more like the lust interest of the gangsters or rich villains that seemingly have an endless supply of hot girls in bikinis to populate their poolsides, yachts, and rooftop bars. This treatment of Jen would be considered the worst version of the male gaze and here it is visually pleasurable, while at the same time subtly shaming of the audience for enjoying looking at Jen and her body. And it is a necessary evil. We need the exploitation of Jen in the beginning to challenge the audience to consider even this girl as a whole person. Even this girl deserves to be treated with respect and gets to decide who she has sex with.
After one of the hunting buddies rapes Jen, all of the men band together to get rid of her. They throw her off a cliff and leave her for dead. Fargeat’s incredible visuals takeover when Jen frees herself from a branch she was impaled on. Jen’s gorey and horrific struggle is offset by extreme close-up shots of blood and ants in the desert. This nature documentary-style footage emphasizes the feeling that Jen is an animal in the desert now. The men resolve to hunt her down, but Jen turns the tables and hunts them down instead. In each encounter, Jen becomes stronger and Fargeat does not pull any punches or rely simply on action tropes. She approaches Jen’s injuries and fights in a truthful, realistic way that stylistically pushes the boundaries of the action genre and even the horror genre at times.
The final fight between Jen and her boyfriend happens back at the house. Perfect symmetry for an action film. In the setting where Fargeat exploited Jen and where she was raped, she returns to reclaim her power. She does this in one of the most brutal, bloody, violent, suspenseful, and powerful action showdowns of all time. The last look at Jen is anything but pretty or sexy. She looks scary, and, as a symbol of women in our time, men like the ones in this movie should be afraid of her. Fargeat’s Revenge often had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what kind of movie I was watching, and ultimately left me in awe of the visionary storytelling in this feminist action film.