Jen (Matilda Lutz) is having an affair with a handsome married man named Richard (Kevin Janssens). She cares very little about the fact that he married and is simply looking for a good time. This wish is shattered when two of Kevin’s hunting buddies arrive unexpectedly. They dance and drink the night away, and in the morning, when Kevin is away, one of the two men rapes Jen after having his advances rejected. Instead of comforting her attacker, Richard implores Jen to keep quiet but when she refuses he leaves her for dead. However, from sheer strength of will, Jen survives and goes looking for revenge.
The Rape-revenge genre is one dominated by men so it would interesting to see what a film of such nature, directed by a woman, would bring to the table? First time director Coralie Fargeat’s film discusses the idea of the male gaze, entitlement and consent. We are left without a doubt that just because Jen dresses skimpily and dances suggestively this is no way is considered consent. The rape stems from feelings of entitlement, a man's ego was hurt from a rejection which feeds into the themes of entitlement. What’s also interesting, especially for the genre, is that the male nudity is more prevalent, effectively turning the usual scantily clad female cliché on its head.
Interestingly the way Matilda Lutz’s Jen is depicted is reminisant of how many Hollywood films shoot similar female characters. It seems strange that Coralie Fargeat would do this because even if it was done as critique of Hollywood it would still likely have the same effect as the Hollywood movies were going for. Matilda Lutz is attractive and camera shows this whether or not it was meant as a criticism of Hollywood. It’s more likely that these early scenes where to balance the scenes later in the film where the same amount of flesh was exposed, but it was presented in a different way. Gone is the sexuality and sensuality, replacing it is something entirely different that illuminates her sheer strength of will and lean, strong physique.
With all of the above considered it does show that with a woman at the helm of a film of such nature different things are done with a genre often criticised for exploiting women. Instead the woman is at forefront, not the rape and whilst the overall story is very much the same the differences are more subtle than the ones that can easily be seen on the surface.
It’s a confident and assured debut from Coralie Fargeat who takes a series of bold, creative choices. The long take sequences, as a naked Richard investigates the source of the noises, is the film’s best example of Fargeat’s skill behind the camera. The sparse landscape (the film is set in the Moroccan desert) is effectively used to highlight the character’s extreme isolation. The interesting use of symbolism and metaphor is also worthy of praise.
Even though the directorial flourishes are of great quality, Coralie’s greatest impact is the way the film views Jen. The film focuses on the revenge aspect rather than the rape (a contrast to films like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave). The rape scene is off-screen and mercifully short meaning that one can enjoy the extreme bloody violence without a needlessly overdone rape sequence stinking the film out with a dirty, exploitative odor.
Matilda Lutz vastly improves on her poor performance in Rings but the film belongs to Coralie. It is a superb debut from Coralie Fargeat whose changes to the genre aren’t going to be found on the surface. Instead, a knowledge and understanding of the feminist movement in recent years is going to open one’s appreciation of the film and understand how it’ll impact the genre.