NEON (2018)

 

Director: Coralie Fargeat

Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède

The French are back – expect blood. Lots of blood.

 

Over the past few decades, the French horror scene has been home to many visceral movies (or ‘horreur intense’) – High Tension, Martyrs, Inside, Frontiers, Them, Livid, Irréversible, to name but a few – and what they all have in common is their comfortable ability to shock, and not just for the sake of it, but authentic feeling moments that define the movies and have come to define the genre. However, you generally need a strong stomach to be able to handle them…

A straight-up rape and revenge horror-thriller in the vein of genre staples Straw Dogs, The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, Revenge is the latest to take the baton and run internationally with it. A few days before an annual hunting trip, very rich and greasily smooth Richard (Janssens) flies his beautiful young ‘friend’ Jen (Lutz) to his isolated getaway in the desert for some sex, drink, sex and sex. His fun is interrupted when his hunting buddies Stan (Colombe) and Dimitri (Bouchède) arrive a day early – so they ALL decide to get on the booze and have a great night. Jen dances the night away, much to the delight of her male company who idolise and list over every inch of her body. The next morning when Richard is away, Stan rapes Jen and the ensuing chaos has her being left for dead in the desert (as Richard has himself to look out for). However, whilst she still has blood and a pulse, she is out for…revenge.

 

It goes without saying that a movie like Revenge isn’t going to be packed full of levity, so don’t expect any. The first act is bright, sexy and a slick look at the rich and beautiful spending their evening frolicking in the pool and drinking expensive looking bubbly (though the peyote Jen has doesn’t come into play just yet…) but once that concludes, the only source of illumination is the beating desert sun. As expected, there’s plenty of blood – including a slippy, slidey corridor from Hell – and moments that will make you squirm in your seat – including glass, peyote-induced skin slicing, exit wounds galore and, of course, the incendiary rape scene. Fargeat tells/implies rather than shows in regards to the rape, but what you do see is uncomfortable enough. From then, Lutz turns from fantasy girl to the girl of your nightmares as she dons her weapons and goes on a literal manhunt – in her small underwear, just because. On that, Fargeat begins by using the camera to objectify Jen, however, by the end, the camera focuses more on her body as a weapon and a physical beauty. It’s an interesting use of visual storytelling in a movie that aims to turn the genre on its head and provide a strong feminist vibe. For me, the empowerment message wasn’t really effective – of course, Jen is strong as concrete and the guys are left quivering wrecks, however, the message is underdeveloped and I enjoyed the movie more as a straight-up thriller than a political statement.

 

Matilda Lutz (of Rings infamy...shudder) is excellent in the physically draining lead role. She pulls off the Lolita role and the psycho-focused hunter role so well and just the look in her eyes is authentic enough to sell the performance for me. She really gives her all and is by far the standout aspect of Revenge – even when she is silent for the final third act. DoP Robrecht Heyvaert does a good job in reminding everyone just how vast and desolate the desert really is and the movie is shot well and look good for the vast majority of its runtime – save for one weird and frankly horrendous looking night shot of Richard ploughing through the desert on his motorbike…where it’s clear Richard is neither in the desert nor riding on a motorbike. It’s really not a good look.

 

With the desert being shown as vast and endless, at times, Revenge felt similar. There are a fair few moments where the pace drops drastically and the movie starts to drag. If you believe Jen could survive her injuries sustained during her ‘incident’ at the end of the first act and the bloodstained third act was plausible, then that may not bother you but those three elements combined brought the movie down for me. Whilst the French nu-horror wave doesn’t skimp on violence or brutality, by the end of Revenge, the feeling wasn’t of shock horror, it was more…desensitized due to the plodding pace and throwaway characters (50% of them, at least)

 

In the pantheon of French horror, Revenge doesn’t make the A-list. It carries many of the signature conventions, but it just feels uninspired by the end. Whilst the message is necessary, the power is lost in a slow movie that lacks the effectiveness of its French genre contemporaries.

December 1st 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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