It’s quickly becoming a tradition at the Toronto International Film Festival for their “Midnight Madness” screenings to live up to the name by showing a French feminist horror movie that makes at least one audience member sick. In 2016 that dubious honour went to the fantastic Raw, and the following year came the rape-revenge movie Revenge. Sadly I wasn’t invited (if TIFF do want to invite me I promise I’ll keep spreading your made-up PR stories) so I attempted to recreate the Franco-feminist atmosphere at midnight on my own by watching Spice World dubbed into French. And it worked! Sick everywhere.
Revenge is a tense and timely thriller about a young woman (Matilda Lutz) who’s left for dead by three rapists, hides in a cave and reacts violently; a kind of feminist First Blood. Or I Spit on Your Cave. Like Rambo she’s suffering from PTSD, which in this case appears to give her superpowers. But it’s not supposed to be realistic (this is a film about men having to pay for their crimes after all), it’s more symbolic. There’s a reason this picture came along when it did, combining exploitation thrills with pointed political anger. Rape-revenge movies always have their cake and eat it (it’s still a film about a scantily clad woman enacting graphic acts of violence) but hey, that’s more solidarity than Catherine Deneuve and her friends could muster.
While we’ve seen this film many times before, it does it with plenty of panache. That’s French for blood, right? At points the screen is about 80% blood, brilliantly captured by Robrecht Heyvaert’s colourful, pristine cinematography that makes the movie look like a perfume advert directed by Takashi Miike. The sound is mixed with trippy abandon, and first-time director Coralie Fargeat makes scintillating use of extreme close-ups, including a great one of an ant bombarded by giant drops of blood. She pays visual homage to Mad Max and Tomb Raider, as well as one conspicuously shaped wound that recalls the sexual body horror of David Cronenberg.
One way it does differ from previous films of this nature is that it doesn’t show the actual rape; a welcome innovation that sidesteps one of the sub-genre’s major difficulties. What it shows is a woman rising from the bloody depths of patriarchy, forcefully played by Lutz, whose only dialogue comes at the start of the movie and who still proves herself as much of a star as her earrings. The result is crazy, pulpy and subversive; an imperfect yet raw reaction to male violence and entitlement. Harvey Weinstein may have left the film industry, but he’s still having one hell of an impact.