“That the slasher film speaks deeply and obsessively to male anxieties and desires seems clear-if nothing else from the maleness of the majority audience.”
[Carol J. Clover]
From the 1970s, we come: fourth-wave feminist cinema strikes again (e.g. The Favourite). As Katie Rife (AV Club) so helpfully announces:
Fans and filmmakers wondering if it’s possible to update exploitation films for the post-#MeToo era without sacrificing their transgressive appeal: Your answer has arrived, and it’s a feverish, blood-soaked “yes.”
What begins with a scantily dressed women empowered by the leering of men, turns into the depravity of man tacking privileges where a well-functioning brain would get the hint. Instead of pursuing good deeds, they decide to double-down by covering their tracks. Of course, this backfires, and all Hell breaks loose as Coralie Fargeat’s L.A.-dreaming heroine (Matilda Lutz) takes vengeance in High-Reservoir Dogs-Fashion — becoming instantly proficient with use of weapons and self-healing. As David Fear (Rolling Stones) writes: “grotty, violent, sordid movies as sticky as the floors of a Forty Deuce theater and as guilty-pleasurably queasy as a drive-in hot-dog binge.”
To say this film is idiotic would be to insult your intelligence, because anyone who watches the trailer knows exactly what they’re getting into. (Perhaps everyone except that one guy at Toronto International Film Festival.) Aside from a few choice color sequences and the drowning of insects in blood, most of the film is wasted on the wasted setting that it portrays. And, yet, at the same time, Fargeat’s does not completely disappoint with her use of imagery and symbolism.
Maybe I’m reading too much into the film, but what about that impaled moment with the crawling of ants seeking to exploit the vulnerable female body as a parallel to the men who do likewise? To overcome both, Lutz is forced to burn the foundation on which her frailty rests and beat the elements of nature with in kind violence.
And, what about that scene in the cave and its symbolic use of the branch stuck inside the gut of the heroine as a metaphor for pregnancy? Her psychedelic removal was the veritable abortion ritual and her convalescence and renewed vigor is the empowerment that takes hold, driving her in Platonic fashion to exit the cave into a newness of freedom with upgraded resolve.
Certainly both comments go to what Carol J. Clover said in her seminal essay “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Films”:
[T]he slasher film, not despite but exactly because of its crudity and compulsive repetitiveness, gives us a clearer picture of current sexual attitudes, at least among the segment of the population that forms its erstwhile audience, than do the legitimate products of the better studios.
Effective, as it is, it does not manage to overcome the shortcomings of a near two-hour saga on the scale of futility imagined in Mad Max. Lena Wilson (Slate) nails it: “though the film makes a valiant effort to subvert a sexist formula by shrouding itself in French art film trappings and pseudo-empowering femininity, it ultimately falls prey to its exploitative roots.” And, again: “Revenge doesn’t empower Jennifer, it enables her. Rather than seeking catharsis and healing, she uses brutality to dissociate from her trauma.”
Hard to add to Wilson’s critique, but I will say that somewhere between the shotgun sniper rifle, the expert hunter who exposes himself with a knife in full display, and the home remedy kit akin to the convalescence of Wolverine, Revenge became frankly boring more than anything else.