A douchebag alpha dad played by the shredded and square-jawed Belgian actor Kevin Janssens, Richard just wants to spend a quiet weekend in the desert with his teenage mistress, far away from his unseen wife and their pesky children. After all, there’s no point in buying a glass mansion in the middle of nowhere if you’re not going to have illicit sex all over it. And it’s not like Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) isn’t totally into it. The young aspiring actress goes full Lolita in the introductory shot where she climbs out of a helicopter in slow-motion, her eyes shaded in pink sunglasses and her lips pursed around a lollipop. Between the ogling and the Hype Williams hyper-saturation of Robrecht Heyvaert’s cinematography, we’re only one vaguely racist alien robot away from a Michael Bay movie.
Bad news for Richard: This is not a Michael Bay movie. It’s not a movie where a man saves the day and screws the trophy. No, Corlaie Fargeat’s hyper-confident debut is something much scarier and more satisfying than that, a fact that becomes discomfortingly clear once two of Richard’s bros stop by uninvited, fresh from hunting and armed with some high-powered rifles. That’s when “Revenge” begins to rot from the inside out, its glossy veneer melting off to reveal a gnarly and hypnotic chunk of feminist body horror.
Jen is happy to make a show of her sexuality, engaging in some PG-13 grinding with the insecure Stan (Vincent Colombe) and the oafish Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) that night. But the twitch in Stan’s face tells us that he thinks he’s entitled to more. He’s horny and convinced that Jen wants it, only to then be humiliated by her lack of real desire for him. He feels small. Invisible. Powerless. So Stan rapes her. Richard comes to her defense — to a degree, anyway — but Jen threatens to tell his wife about their affair once he refuses to let her leave. The next thing you know, the boys are shoving her straight off a cliff. “Bros before hoes,” or whatever. Just another victim of toxic masculinity.
Until Jen gets up, the wooden spike she landed on still protruding from her abdomen. It feels like a supernatural event of some kind — a divine resurrection as opposed to a narrowly avoided death — but Fargeat isn’t interested in splitting hairs. All that matters is that Jen is alive, really pissed off, and hellbent on making sure that Richard and his friends get what’s coming to them.
That’s all there really is to the plot of a movie that still has 80 minutes left to go, Fargeat favoring stomach-churning intensity over any sort of incident. Nobody dies in “Revenge” — they bleed gallons of slick goo, hobble around the post-apocalyptic landscape, slowly peel shards of glass out of their flesh, slip on fresh pools of their own blood, and then die. The unbroken scene where Jen pries the stake out of her guts runs at least 10 minutes long, builds to a hilariously literal bit of branding, and is preceded by a nightmare sequence where her head explodes more than once. One killer bit finds a man trying to drive a car with a giant gash along the bottom of his foot; every time he lifts his sole off the pedal, a new jet of blood squirts out. “Revenge” is apparently a dish best served beneath dollops of red corn syrup.
Fargeat loves this stuff — she cuts into every scene like a trauma surgeon, wrapping a tourniquet around the gangrenous parts so that we can savor them without getting sick. In a film with simple characters mounted on an even simpler premise, it’s only natural that bodies become the main subject. The men are divided into their physical types, and Jen is a lust object reborn as a valkyrie, slowly reclaiming her sexuality as she’s dragged to hell and back.
She only grows more powerful as her skin is dirtied and caked in dried blood; as her hair gets sticky and tangled. The Hot Topic earring that initially seems like a symbol of her fetishization starts to glow in the thick blue sky that settles over the desert at night; by the end of the movie it might as well be a superhero’s crest. The electro score — so menacing at first — begins to thump with purpose.
Imagine “Beyond the Black Rainbow” set against the pallid backdrop of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and you’ll start to understand how this queasy little movie manages to keep us engaged for so much longer than it should. “Revenge” is a bit too thin to sustain its running time (despite its slickness and mesmeric rhythm), but Fargeat’s well-executed finale is worth the wait, particularly for how it cements Lutz as a final girl for the ages. A girl who’s stripped of her humanity, and then finds the strength to return the favor several times over.
“Revenge” opens in theaters and on demand on May 11.