When Jen (Matilda Lutz) first shows up onscreen in Revenge, she’s literally sucking on a lollipop, like a caricature of a ditzy blonde sex doll. She’s accompanying her married boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) on a trip to a lavish vacation home in the middle of nowhere, to have a little time away from both Richard’s job and his wife and family. Their private romantic getaway is interrupted when Richard’s oafish buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) show up a day early for their planned hunting trip, which was set to begin after Jen headed home.
Jen at first seems happy to play the role of eye candy, roaming the house in skimpy outfits and dancing suggestively for the guys’ entertainment. But the next day, when Richard is out getting the group’s hunting licenses, the playfulness turns sour, and Stan forces himself on Jen, while an indifferent Dimitri merely turns up the TV to drown out Jen’s anguished screams. When Richard returns home, instead of defending his girlfriend against her attacker, he first tries to pay her off, and then when she runs out into the wilderness, threatening to expose his secrets to his wife, he simply pushes her off a cliff.
Another type of movie would stay with the three men as they scramble to cover up their murder of a disposable harlot, but first-time writer-director Coralie Fargeat isn’t interested in that kind of story. Instead, she has Jen rise up as if reborn (and given the unrealistically quick recovery she makes from her nearly lethal injuries, it might be best to think of her as actually resurrected) to face off against the men who are now hunting her through the desert and the mountains, determined to snuff out her life once and for all.
Jen is not the ditzy blonde sex doll she first appeared to be, or at least she isn’t anymore. Resourceful and determined, she turns the tables on the men, hunting them down as they hunt her, and taking them out one by one. Fargeat both embraces and subverts the rape-revenge genre, and while Revenge could be viewed as a feminist statement of sorts, it’s also just an entertaining exploitation movie, with stomach-churning gore and torrents of blood. Fargeat revels in the grotesque, whether that’s Jen slicing up her skin to remove the branch that impaled her when she was pushed off the cliff, or the slovenly Dimitri chewing on candy in extreme, nauseating close-up.
The visuals are all impressively stylized, from the eye-catching production design in Richard’s vacation house (which is eventually covered almost entirely in blood) to the numerous elaborate tracking shots, especially during the final confrontation between Jen and Richard. The extensive gore and blood eventually gets to be a bit cartoonish, and there’s a silly (and somewhat tedious) sort of coyote-and-roadrunner quality to the mutual pursuit between Jen and the three men after a while. But it’s also okay for a movie like this to be a little silly, to have a sense of humor about its very dark subject matter. Fargeat winks at the audience just before hitting them right in the gut.