Rape-revenge movies get a bad rap. Ultimately, films which show women rising up after assault at the hands of a man or group of men tend to focus heavily on the scene in which the woman is attacked. This in part has led to films like Wes Craven’s 1972 ‘video nasty’ Last House On the Left and 1978’s I Spit On Your Grave attracting criticism for being exploitative. By focusing on depicting the violent sexual torture in graphic detail, there’s a risk of positioning rape as entertainment.
But Revenge is different. In Revenge, there’s no long-drawn-out rape sequence. What we see unfold on screen, however, is no less chilling and packs a colossal punch. And then, following the assault, we see the victim’s immense transformation into Mad Max-style avenger, and the punishment she metes out to her heinous attackers. Not that it’s as cut and dried as simple ‘revenge’ — it’s kill or be killed. But these are three perpetrators who don’t see their wrongdoing, and who don’t fear recriminations because of a culture that would place the blame squarely at the feet of a Lolita-esque temptress.
A Superhero is Born
FANDOM spoke to director Coralie Fargeat and the film’s lead actress Matilda Lutz about why Revenge is the feminist horror – scratch that, film – you need to see this year.
Removing only the word ‘rape’ from its title, Fargeat’s brutal horror isn’t subtle about what it is or its intentions to utilize the much-maligned subgenre to push its agenda. And what better time in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up to bring a woman-helmed rape-revenge flick to newly savvy audiences? At the beginning of a period in which we expect to see unprecedented change, a female perspective on a very sorry subject executed in the most hard-hitting way possible is extremely powerful.
“I think it’s the construction for me of a real kind of superhero,” says Fargeat. “But in a realistic way. And what I like is that the character who has been seen at the beginning as being very weak really goes out of herself to create a new self that is going to be able to go wherever she wants and do whatever she wants and not be judged.”
The pivotal moment in the film occurs after Lutz’s character Jen is left for dead, and we witness what comes across as a kind of supernatural rebirth – a less graphic version of which can be seen in the trailer.
“It was fascinating to be able to play two extremes of a character,” says Lutz. “I was judging her at the beginning a little bit and I had a very hard time with the dance scene before the rape scene because I was scared that playing too much [on] the seductiveness was going to give, basically, a reason to rape her. And [Coralie and I] spoke about the scene and I told her my concerns, and she was telling me that that’s exactly what she wanted to do; she wanted to push it to the extreme.”
Fargeat adds, “I like the idea to play with the different sides of a woman, and the different sides that a woman can have in herself, and [she] should be allowed and free to deal with as many sides of herself as she wants.”
Asking For It?
Lutz expands on Fargeat’s point: “Being a certain way and behaving or saying certain things doesn’t give you a reason to do something.”
In other words, no woman is asking to be raped, assaulted or otherwise objectified.
Fargeat believes that in highlighting individual cases of sexual harassment and giving women a collective voice to communicate the scale of the issue, the #MeToo movement has been so important for empowering women.
“What the #MeToo movement brought was the fact that women have to not feel responsible for those kind of behaviours, and have to really denounce them,” she says. “And [in the film] those three [male perpetrators each embody] a very different way of harming women. It’s not only physical, it can be psychological, verbal violence, manipulation. All those ways of dealing with those kinds of situations that can make women defenceless and think they’re responsible for what’s happened to them and afraid to talk.”
Subverting the Trope
Lutz shares her own experiences: “I think every woman went through some experience psychologically or physically. I don’t have one friend that doesn’t have an experience like that. Guys on a bus, or going to school. And I remember freezing up like my body didn’t know how to react. And that’s what I tried to do in that [rape] scene, show how a woman so powerful and so confident can become so little in a situation like that.”
Showing very little of the initial assault was crucial and had as much to do with going some way towards levelling the balance between male and female nudity on screen as it was about minimizing potentially gratuitous graphic sexual violence.
“It’s crazy because it’s true — you don’t ever see male nudity in films and I think that even though there’s very little female nudity, [the rape scene] was one of the most difficult scenes and also one of the most important scenes,” says Lutz.
At the end of the film, you see Kevin Janssens’ character Richard fully nude as he goes head to head with Jen. For Fargeat, it was a very deliberate decision.
“It was playing on reversing the usual cliché, like the girl always being naked and not the guy,” she says.
Revenge hits screens on May 11.