Although a Belgian co-production, Revenge can easily be slotted in with the French new wave of extreme films that spiralled in blood and guts around the start of the new Millennium with the likes of Irreversible, Baise Moi, Haute Tension, Frontiere(s) and Martyrs to name but a few. This 2017 movie shares some common ground with many of these shockers and certainly does not hold back in its harrowing subject matter. Released originally by Vertigo Entertainment it quickly gained notoriety and a following from hardened gore-hounds and thankfully got through the censors unscathed. Cuts would definitely have not been appropriate here as the scissors would have rendered the film very short and damaged its impact and intentions completely. The biggest bone of contention about the re-release of the film from Second Sight is why it is considered necessary after just 3 years. Fans were quick to complain about the legitimacy of double dipping so soon. The film already looked absolutely stunning, the scenery and cinematography being one of its main selling points but did we need another edition already? Well the simple fact is that apart from trailer there were no extras on the standard edition and here there are stacks, which I shall come to later. Second Sight also are giving it a hard box housing, poster and booklet with writing on the film. Still at the moment blu-rays seem to be going up in price, especially as far as the collectors and limited-edition market are concerned. With an RRP of £23 my job is not to tell you to rush out and get this new version if you already own the first release but more to tell you what it contains.
I guess giving the film a title of ‘Rape-Revenge’ would not have been a major selling point but essentially it is to this sub-genre that the film firmly sits in. Call it exploitation, grindhouse, or perhaps controversially a feminist attack but that is just what we have here, a film up there with the likes of Thriller A Cruel Picture (Bo Arne Vibenius 1973) I Spit On Your Grave (Meir Zarchi 1978) and MS45 (Abel Ferrara 1981) to name just a few infamous examples.
We are blinded by stunning sun and heat in the opening shot as a helicopter comes into land carrying wealthy business executive Richard (Kevin Janssens) and Jen, (Matilda Lutz). They look like the perfect Hollywood couple but it is quickly established that she is his sexual plaything for a couple of days whilst his wife is at home arranging their sons first communion. Despite being a complete louse, he is treating her well and she seems more than happy with the arrangement having ambitions to move to LA and be recognised, possibly with her great looks as a future movie star. It’s a stunning open-plan, glass-fronted house in the middle of nowhere, huge outdoor swimming pool and miles of desert around. Filmed in Morocco the environment is gorgeously hostile and after his couple of days of infidelity Richard’s plans are to go hunting with two friends (yep you couldn’t dislike him more) Stan and Dimitri (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède). His equally nauseating friends arrive a day early, partly spoiling his plans but making the most of it they all get down and party. With Richard off sorting out arrangements for the hunt the next day the slimy Stan takes a chance with Jen but is rejected which leads to brutal rape. Although Dimitri is not an active participant, he sees what is going on and makes no move to prevent it, being a slob more intent on stuffing his face he simply shrugs shoulders and turns the TV up with the Grand Prix drowning out sounds and screams of the attack. Although pissed off and apologetic on return Richard is more concerned about himself and after Jen threatens to tell his wife a chase ensues leading to her being pushed over a cliff to land impaled on a branch of dead wood at the bottom. The plan is to go recover the body, cover up tracks and embark on their hunting trip as though nothing has happened but they hadn’t planned on Jen’s remarkable fortitude to survive and get her revenge. The hunters are about to become the hunted.
Whether the director’s gaze as a woman puts other context on things is an interesting point and whether the tried and tested formula of a film like this has any relevant social context within the genre is interesting. You could ask similarly if a film such as Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) suffers from male viewpoint and Virginie Despentes & Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise Moi (2000) is engendered and more of a feminist statement. It’s a conundrum in itself. Should we simply look at films like this as pure exploitation and entertainment or is there a more serious message behind them? Having not watched them yet, this is the reason that I am hoping the extras will be very important and address some of these issues. Two things are certain with this somewhat grimy underbelly of film construct; rape is abhorrent and truly reprehensible and revenge, the reason why people are drawn to such films in the 1st place, is sweet. It certainly is here. We know very little about Jen, indeed after the first half hour and the rape sequence she does not utter a word. Obviously she is far from the vapid airhead that she is first portrayed as and although there are only 3 protagonists and just the 4 main characters in the film Jen is far from a victim and the film descends into a breath-taking and highly intense rite of survival in a hostile environment that really will leave viewers gobsmacked. Whatever way you look at things there is no doubt that Revenge is one of the best examples of the rape revenge format seen in some time and proves that the French really still can pack a punch to the gut when it comes to visceral film-making. Compare it to Meir Sarchi’s recent official sequel to the Godmother of the genre I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu (2019) and there is no question of which is the superior film in every respect. Considering all these facts and the convincing acting especially from Italian Lutz along with an expansive soundtrack taking in electronic music, pop and even synthwave, Revenge has plenty going for it. Now onto the extras…
First up is an in depth 43-minute interview with director Coralie Fargeat and Actor Matilda Lutz. Everything came down to a question of trust and the surprise here is that Matilda was not the 1st choice of the director for the role of Jen. There’s no doubting that this was going to be a gruelling shoot and the original actor got cold feet (or maybe burnt ones) just 2 weeks before shooting was to begin; hence the inclusion of Lutz who had gelled with Coralie from the offset. Development of plot, originally an actioner without rape as a central motif and getting funding for the film are discussed. With just short films to her directorial helm and the fact that France does not make much in the way of genre films were obvious obstacles but gradually everything came together. The importance that the sexualisation of character is no invitation to rape is a key point. It is also evident that visual messages are contained within the film alluding to other metaphors. Keen eyed viewers may have picked up on some of these and I will not spoil them for you but these mean there is a deeper level to unravel here which although succinct go far beyond what a casual viewing may unveil. Strength in psychology as well as physicality were definitely important in the handling of the part of Jen, luckily Lutz states that she was not particularly disturbed and obviously handled the part admirably. Blood is also discussed and there is no shortage of it. Regular calls of “more blood” were common during shooting and cleaning up after must have been a bitch. Amazingly the amount involved did not lead to any mishaps despite the speed things were put together more or less on the fly. We are told only one scene was left on the cutting room floor which allowed things to progress more fluently and naturally; hence no deleted scene footage here and the feeling that we do really get the complete film. Everything from editing to sound design and music is discussed giving a very good insight of what went on behind the scenes here.
Next up Actor Guillaume Bouchede who played Dimitri who has a 14-minute chat about his experience. Although he has 20 years of acting under his belt he professes to never even reading anything as violent and crazy as the script, let alone playing a part like this. It was a tricky job getting under the passivity of his character and the fact he is a coward essentially, turning his back on the rape. Maybe not as physical demanding a part as others but he was made to eat lots and plump up for the part making it harder in that respect, along with that scenes in freezing cold water were particularly tough. Seemingly a likeable chap in real life, however there’s no way you will feel sorry for him watching the film. There’s no denying Belgian cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert is a key element of the film and really makes scenes come to life. Talking about his part (25 minutes) he says that the director proposed the project as a mix of Kill Bill and Deliverance enticing him to it straight away. His aim was counterpoising roughness, surrealism and the beauty of violence into a near fairy-tale look. He has plenty of insight into the subject matter comparing the harsh environment quite rightly as owing much to the Western genre as well as the visual flair and colour of films such as Mad Max Fury Road. Colouring, setting of scene, filters and location scouting are all talked about as well as the 30-day shooting in Morocco. Biggest problems were sandstorms and shooting when you can’t see more than a couple of metres in front of you. Glad to see both Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) and Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil (1992) being name-checked as stylistic reference points.
Last interviewee is musical director Rob aka Robin Coudert, a pop rock musician also responsible for films such as Maniac remake (Franck Khalfoun 2012) and Alexandre Aja’s Horns (2014). He also gets a substantial 25-minute segment allowing him to wax lyrically about his largely instrumental and cinematic career. Both music and 80’s VHS films had a large impact upon him, the ever-reliable John Carpenter in both respects. Completing the package is an audio commentary by writer and producer Kat Ellinger so you certainly get plenty of blood and bang for your buck here compared to the original release; as well as a cracking film too of course.