Jennifer (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) has been invited to the chic desert pad of her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a couple of days so they can relax away from it all, which they do on their first day and night there, conveniently ignoring the fact Richard's wife has called him on the phone and believes he is on a working trip. However, the next day there are two unexpected visitors, Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) who show up for a hunting trip with their pal Richard, something he wasn't prepared for, hoping for time alone with Jennifer. But now they're here, they may as well join them, and it all goes well, with beautiful Jennifer the life of the party...
But with a title like Revenge, you can bet there's trouble just around the corner, and so it is when director Coralie Fargeat, making her feature debut after some short work, decided to put a new spin on a genre that had made its biggest impact in the nineteen-seventies with movies like Jackson County Jail and I Spit on Your Grave, and thereafter had been the black sheep of the thriller and horror crossovers, with anyone admitting to getting a kick out of rape revenge exploitation flicks looked on with suspicion. Basically, do you enjoy the rape part or the revenge part is the question that would go through the mind of anyone hearing that, or was it a bit of both you liked?
Fargeat made this quandary more excusable by dint of being a woman herself, therefore rendering it all right to appreciate the stylings since they were brought to the screen by a female interpretation, and Revenge quickly became a cult movie, albeit a love it or hate it affair. She was unafraid to go way over the top, which had the effect of a lurid result, yet also a message that could not be taken in any ambiguous fashion: rape was definitely not OK. Even if a woman has been flirting with you, as Jennifer has the previous evening before her assault, that's no excuse to attack her, and it's perfectly acceptable for her to turn you down and not take it so personally you want to punish her.
In fact, although this posed as a fresh approach to some unlovely clichés, Fargeat was not too proud to ignore them, and you would find scenes here which would echo even a serious, respected rape drama like The Accused. Lutz was interesting in that she had the looks of the sort of character in a movie who would be strictly used for decoration by a production which couldn't see past that outward appearance, yet she was called on to do a lot of heavy lifting both in emotion and action, and not only that but proved herself more than capable of both. When the traumatised Jen is pushed off a cliff by the callous Richard, who doesn't want any more trouble from her now she's been used and abused, it's a trigger for a rebirth in her spirit for she doesn't die, she survives and goes on surviving no matter what.
There were also influences of another seventies genre, the acid Western, as once out in the desert (actually Africa, not the USA) Jen has to take the peyote she has on her as an anaesthetic so she can tend to her injuries. This acts as a shamanic experience guided by her own stubborn refusal to give her enemies the satisfaction of dying off so they can get away with their crime, at the same time an opportunity for the film to inflect a horror technique onto the already rich tone. By the time the phoenix imagery was blatant enough that even the most obtuse viewer would catch what the writer-director was aiming for, it was time for our heroine to set about righting the wrongs that had been done to her, and in its primal manner watching the underdog manage against the odds to prevail was undeniably satisfying. Unbothered about taking things to absurd heights, Revenge remained tied to its disreputable origins throughout, but with its ironically dreamy cinematography served up more food for thought than many of its predecessors. Electro-music by Robin Coudert.