French film

Revenge

revenge

Jen goes to an extravagant vacation house with her rich boyfriend. While there, her boyfriend’s friends show up early for their annual hunting trip. After a seemingly normal night of drinking, laughs, and dancing, things take a turn. Jen is attacked by one of the friends. After that moment everything spirals out of control, and Jen is left for dead. The men never expected her to survive, and they will soon come to regret it.

Rape-revenge films are fairly common in the thriller/horror genre. They all tend to follow certain rules and tropes, but French writer/director Coralie Fargeat brings audiences something fresh to her first feature-length film. This film being written and directed by a woman makes a huge difference in how not only the victim, but the rape itself is portrayed. One of the biggest differences is that, traditionally, the victims in these types of films are always sweet, virginal, innocent young women. In real life, women are not always the delicate victim in a white dress. Jen is very provocative with what she wears, she is flirtatious, and her boyfriend is a married man. Having an “imperfect” victim allows Fargeat to reinforce the idea that no always means no. It doesn’t matter if a girl was flirting with a man, or dancing with him, or anything else. When she says she does not want to have sex with a man, it needs to be respected. It is quite refreshing to see a more authentic character, and it only allows Fargeat to send a stronger message about rape culture. The final confrontation leaves the male in a vulnerable state while Jen is in a state of power, which makes it all the more satisfying to watch.

The rape scene itself is also treated much differently than in past films. In other films of the same genre the scenes are often long and drawn out to the point of making everyone in the audience very uncomfortable. While this is an effective method, Fargeat uses a different tactic. She made the decision to focus more on the events leading up to the rape. Then, during the act itself, everything is shown slightly out of focus. This allows the audience’s eye to be drawn to other things going on. One specific shot focuses simply on Jen’s hand against a sliding glass door as she is being attacked, but then the camera focuses on the reflection in the glass of another character going for a swim like nothing is happening. It is a tasteful and visually interesting way to film the scene.

The various character arcs are truly fantastic, and the performances make them even better. Matilda Lutz (Rings, The Fifth Wheel) plays Jen. When Jen is first introduced, she seems like just another party girl. As the film progresses, Lutz gets the chance to show Jen as a survivor. In a way, even her relationship with her married boyfriend is a method of survival. Lutz does a fantastic job of conveying Jen’s strength, especially in the climax of the film. Kevin Janssens (The Ardennes, Vermist) plays Jen’s boyfriend, Richard. What makes Janssens performance stand out is how, at first glance, he appears to be the perfect guy. As the film progresses, Janssens gets to show that Richard is a sociopath who cares for no one but himself. It is amazing to see the initial chemistry between Lutz and Janssens, and how quickly that all changes after Jen is attacked. Another compelling performance is from Vincent Colombe (Point Blank, My King) as Stan. Stan is Jen’s attacker. What I love about Colombe’s performance is how unwilling he was to face the consequences of attacking Jen. It is very satisfying to watch him continually fall apart as the film progresses, after letting his entitlement get the better of him.

The artistic aspects of Revenge are absolutely stunning. Much like the scene I described earlier, the cinematography brings a lot of beauty to the film. A large portion of the film is in a very stark, dead landscape, yet the way various scenes are shot brings everything to life. Even the sets chosen make the film gorgeous. The vacation house specifically gave the filmmakers a chance to really play with some fascinating angles and use of color. This is especially utilized in the climax for one of the most intense and breathtaking scenes of the entire film, putting an emphasis on bright colors, lots of blood, and amazing long-takes. The only true negative I can say for this film involves one visual element. At one point Jen uses a heated up beer can to cauterize a wound, leaving a burn impression on her skin of the beer logo. The problem is that the logo and lettering should be reversed, but when her skin is revealed it is not.

Another amazing artistic aspect is the film’s score. The score was composed by Rob, who is also known for scoring films such as Horns and Maniac. The electronic music, with very subtle 80’s vibes, goes will with some of the color choices used throughout the film. Rob’s music is fantastic because it blends in with the background when necessary. Yet, when the music really gets going, it elicits strong emotions in the audience (especially when it comes to getting behind Jen as she exacts her revenge). The score really only adds to the quality of the film and brings it to the next level.

Revenge is an intense, mesmerizing, and extremely brutal film. I can say without a doubt this film was my favorite at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film festival. Watching a rape-revenge film made by a woman made a huge difference in the film style and imagery, and it was for the better. Fargeat creates a compelling story with dynamic, raw characters. It sends a message about rape culture, while also being a stunning and entertaining film. The filmmaking, acting, artistry, and music make this film stand out from the crowd. Revenge is one you will not want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

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Raw

raw

A young girl begins her studies at a prestigious veterinary school that her whole family has attended. She was raised as a vegetarian but is forced to eat raw meat during a hazing ritual at the school. Her body reacts to the meat in an odd way, but now she has had a taste for meat and wants more. Once she gets her first taste of human flesh, there is no going back. From that moment on the girl’s life spirals out of control as her hunger grows.

A young girl coming into adulthood and discovering her own sexuality can be complicated and messy all on it’s own. Add to that a burgeoning hunger for human flesh, and things can escalate quickly. What I most enjoy about this plot is how it amplifies what is a normal coming-of-age story by adding the unique cannibalistic element. This young girl, Justine, is already an outsider because she is younger than her veterinary school peers, and therefore still developing into the woman she will become. She is even more of an outsider once she discovers her own unusual eating habits. Justine is alone and has no one to relate to. Even with her own sister attending the same school, she still has no one she can confide in as she goes through her many changes. This can be seen as a metaphor, as the desire to eat human flesh directly relates to her burgeoning sexual desire. It is very fitting that this film was written and directed by a woman, Julia Ducournau, because this is a theme that can only be accurately conveyed by someone who has experienced the changes a woman goes through. Ducournau’s storytelling makes it so you feel Justine’s isolation and confusion on her journey. As a woman it is impossible not to empathize with her, even with the added oddity of her dietary desires.

Obviously the cannibalism, and how it acts as a metaphor for Justine’s developing sexuality, is the driving force of this story. Yet it is also very much about the relationship between two sisters. While Justine is going through her whirlwind of changes she has her sister, Alexia, as a constant presence. Much of what Justine is going through Alexia has herself experienced, so one would expect Alexia to be her sister’s guide and confidant throughout everything. Unfortunately, their relationship is very much the definition of sibling rivalry. While the two love each other very much, they also hate each other like many sisters do. There is a breaking point in every relationship, and yet again the cannibalism acts as the catalyst that threatens to explode their sisterly bond. Many of the themes in Raw, such as the female journey to adulthood and the sibling relationship, feel reminiscent of one of my favorite horror films, Ginger Snaps

The performances by both sisters are delightful. Garance Marillier (Mange) is absolutely marvelous as Justine. She gives the audience a complete transformation from a naive young girl to a sexual, hungry being in a way that feels natural and somewhat visceral. Marillier also manages to feel like a relatable character throughout her transformation. Considering the more eccentric aspects of her metamorphosis, that is quite a feat. Ella Rumpf (Tiger Girl) acts as an excellent counterpoint to Justine as her sister, Alexia. Alexia’s personality is an interesting juxtaposition compared to Justine’s in how differently she responds to various situations. Rumpf’s performance is surprising on more than one occasion and keeps the audience guessing what she will do next. Marillier and Rumpf together create an extraordinary duo that displays the many facets of human nature.

Raw is a very visually stunning film. Of course it is going to have great practical effects as it is a cannibal film. The practical effects in the cannibal scenes are excellent, but they aren’t quite as over-the-top as much of the early buzz for Raw would suggest. It is surely grotesque, but nothing that horror fans haven’t seen before. While the various gory bits were very well done, I found the practical effects used to create the animals to be especially impressive. Since Justine is in veterinary school she obviously will have to dissect an animal at some point. There is a scene where a dog cadaver is dissected in one of the classes. This dog not only looks real on the outside, but on the inside as well.  These effects are great, but I found the cinematography and use of color throughout the film to be the most beautiful aspect of Raw. Many shots are done in such a way where there is chaos concurring all around but your eye still focuses on Justine and the silence within her. These shots are typically used to emphasize her isolation, even when she is surrounded by others. There is also a heavy use of blue and red tones in many scenes. This colors add beauty to scenes that might not otherwise be considered beautiful.

In recent years there has been an increase in horror films that provide an interesting take on the human experience. These films are intelligent, thought provoking, and often times focus on women and the trials they face. Along with the likes of It Follows and The Witch, Raw fits into this unique horror film niche. The coming-of-age story about a girl discovering her sexuality isn’t something one would typically consider horror, but horrific elements are added to the story as a mechanism to exacerbate emotions and events throughout the story. When you add the extra layer of cannibalism to the plot and use it as a metaphor, you get a horror film that forces audiences to see things in a new light. Raw is a beautifully told tale that is gruesome and, as a woman, very familiar. While this might not be what audiences typically expect from a horror film, it is what they should be asking for more of.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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