Revenge is pure genre cinema, but it repurposes the rape-and-revenge film in a more artistic, stylish manner. I wouldn’t call it a feminist film, but it manages to take a tacky genre setup and tell its story without being exploitative or sexist. It mildly subverts the genre and makes the brutal justice feel empowering. The sight of horrible man left naked and bloody in his own house is a perversely satisfying image.
The opening scenes of Revenge are very sexually charged. Whilst the lead may be objectified at first, she has her own agency, able to consent and control her sexuality at first and later take harsh revenge when such control is stripped from her. The men in the film are creepy, with their lewd behaviour plain to see through the way they stare at the lead. They think they’re entitled and are openly menacing, demeaning, and misogynistic. The men appear heartless, having all the power in the initial situation, which they abuse terribly. The lead character is even separated from the men by a language barrier, just to emphasise her lack of power. All this, plus some timely imagery, shows us that something is slowly rotting inside this setup and we can feel it coming. When the rape does happen, it’s done very sympathetically to the victim. We get only the buildup and half-glimpses, the act itself is offscreen.
Revenge is made with so much fucking style. It is a film filled with beautiful cinematography, creative music choices, and a clear eye for good action set pieces. The filmmaking here places a lot of emphasis on the small details of the world and sensory perceptions of it. We get a lot of emphasis on eyelines, witnessing what the characters see. We see how they can ogle a woman, how they can look directly at a woman being raped and not care, and even (in a reversal) how the hatred can be seen in a man’s eyes even as blood obscures our vision.
Blood is plentiful in Revenge, from the sticky drops that land on an ant, to slow and graphic self-surgery midway through the film. Revenge is certainly a tough watch, because its connection to visceral sensation makes all the pain be felt. A scene where a man digs glass out of his foot is particularly difficult viewing, as is the earlier hallucinogenic surgery. It is a truly gruesome picture and incredibly intense. There was times here where I felt like I’d swallowed my lungs in shock at some of the most unexpected and gross moments.
There’s little things littered throughout Revenge which make it all the more fascinating. It has a fixation on animals, viewing people as lizards and eagles. There’s also imagery that focuses on rebirth and resurrection. It’s a beautiful clutter of allusions and ideas, hiding its little asides beneath gratuitous blood.
Revenge is a simple film that is incredibly effective. It’s an assault on the senses, with heart-pounding moments that leave you gasping for air. It looks extraordinary and has themes and raw nastiness that elevate it to greatness. It might not be profound but it’s a gruelling, powerful watch.
The new Blu-Ray from Second Sight includes various interviews with both cast and crew, a commentary track from Kat Ellinger, Author and Editor of Diabolique, poster and even a book with new writing by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic.