In the notorious and later banned classic, I Spit on Your Grave (1978) a young woman rents a shack for a camping vacation in the countryside, only to be brutally raped and left for dead by three local men. She survives this ordeal, recovers and enacts her revenge on the men who did this to her. This film has course been redone as a franchise in recent years but set the tone for this type of film. Of course I Spit on Your Grave was not the first film of this type, with Straw Dogs being a good precursor, as well as Wes Craven’s brutal, The Last House on the Left (1972) (although in the latter film it is the parents who enact the revenge of their murdered daughter). The back-forwards French film, Irrevérsible (2002) by Gaspar Noé, was another brutal film played in reverse shows the effects of a rape.
Revenge (2017) is the latest addition to the canon. The title is simpler than the more exploitation sounding of I Spit on Your Grave and, despite the controversy of the original, more explicit. A French film shot in Morocco and, although not specified, this is most likely supposed to be Nevada. It opens with a helicopter arriving at a remote stylish house as though in an oasis with married man Richard (Kevin Janssens) alighting with his lover, the sexy and sassy twenty-something Jen (Matilda Lutz). Not long after Richard begins to enjoy an afternoon and night of sex with Jen and in between phones his wife. In the morning, half naked, she is surprised by two men on the patio armed with guns. Richard explains that these are his friends he’s going on a hunting trip with. That evening, the four have a party and consume much alcohol. Richard stops her from taking the crazy hallucinogenic drug, peyote but she dances furtively with one of the new arrivals, the seedy Stan (Vincent Colombe).
The next morning Jen wakes to find that Richard has apparently gone off to sort an errand. Jen has an uncomfortable feeling at breakfast while Stan leers at her. After she has a shower, Stan rapes her, while the other associate, Dmitri stares on. When Richard arrives back he is angry at what has happened and offers to put Jen on a flight to Canada. She refuses, angering Richard who strikes her. She runs off into the desert with the other men chasing her. Trapped at the edge of a gorge, Richard throws Jen off, impaling her on an old tree below. Believing she is dead, they prepare to go hunting. When they return later they discover that Jen has survived, albeit a bloody mess as she has made her way off her impaling and crawls into the desert. Certain that she couldn’t have made it far they hunt her down but soon find that the hunters become the hunted.
Viewing Coralie Fargeat’s film we have to suspend belief in several places. Not least of all is Jen surviving the fall from a great height to be impaled on a tree and surviving. The transformation from the sexy popsicle sucking ingenue to the Lara Croft style instinctual hunter does not convince at any level. Again, reality needs to be suspended for this to work and once that is parked the viewer can go along with it. The cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert uses over saturated colours, both in the desert and the villa, highlighting the heat of the desert or the kitschness of the desert villa. The camera also uses POV camerawork as Stan lusts over the body of Jen, smacking his lips like a lizard. When Jen enters the film, stepping off the helicopter it’s as shot as though an MTV music video. The film is played throughout to a pulsating, throbbing electro score by Robin Courdert which gives a great deal of style to this ultra-modern and modish action film in Fargeat’s first feature film. It will be interesting to see what she does next.