Los Angeles (AFP) – An oft-criticized staple of genre filmmaking, the rape-revenge thriller has occupied a squalid, often controversial corner of horror cinema since the 1970s.
The industry might have been expected to let such a problematic subgenre wither on the vine with the rise of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements against sexual violence, harassment and inequity.
But a stomach-churning new French release by Parisian filmmaker Coralie Fargeat is being touted unapologetically as a feminist rape-revenge movie for the new, post-Weinstein reality.
“Pushed to her limits, the first horror heroine of the Time’s Up era is born in the gutsy ‘Revenge,’” enthused a review in the Los Angeles Times.
Starring Italian actress and model Matilda Lutz, this brutal examination of male entitlement, presumptions of privilege and victim-blaming hits US theaters and streaming services on Friday.
It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, a month before Hollywood’s sexual abuse and harassment scandal that triggered the #MeToo movement.
But Fargeat, directing her debut feature from her own script, points out that the behavior of Hollywood powerbroker Harvey Weinstein and other public figures was just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“A major change of society is needed and that’s not going to happen in three or four or five months, because it’s the whole root of society that needs to be changed,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Lutz (“Rings”) stars as Jen, a pretty young woman who goes on vacation at a remote villa in a desert canyon with her married boyfriend Richard, played by Belgian actor Kevin Janssens.
Their romantic weekend goes badly awry when Richard’s hunting partners Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede) show up uninvited.
Jen, a Lolita-type figure in skimpy swimwear, quickly arouses their predatory instincts. And her rape, no less shocking for playing out largely off-screen, triggers a wave of sickening violence.
– Cold-blooded –
Lutz, who studied Marilyn Monroe for inspiration, plays her protagonist at first as an eager-to-please, guileless ingenue, but transforms over 108 minutes into a cold-blooded killer.
“The film plays at the beginning with this representation, which it pushes to its fullest in order to switch it brutally the other way round,” Fargeat said in a statement.
Rape-revenge movies — from Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left,” Meir Zarchi’s “I Spit on Your Grave” and Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” in the 1970s to Niels Arden Oplev’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009) — are made almost exclusively by men.
Fargeat says she didn’t set out merely to upset the apple cart or make a point about gender politics, describing the genre as “my kind of film.”
The violence is stomach-churning and yet feels anything but gratuitous. Every punch, shot or stab feels like it comes at a cost, spilling what looks like real blood rather than red corn syrup.
In Toronto, paramedics had to treat an audience member who suffered a seizure, according to local media, during a scene in which one character digs a jagged shard of glass out of his foot.
Lutz, a 26-year-old multilingual Italian who lives in California, told the LA Times “Revenge” had changed her outlook and given her confidence.
“I’ve always been strong but I’ve always felt very concerned about what other people thought of me, what my body looked like, what people were saying about my body,” she said.
“On the beach… on the street, if a man was looking at me I would either put my head down or change sides because I was scared of what might happen to me. And now, I don’t do that anymore.”