How 'Revenge' became the perfect thriller for the Time's Up era
Director says the timing of the film's release is 'striking' given the past year's sexual harassment scandals
In the action-thriller Revenge (out May 11) a young woman played by Matilda Lutz (Rings) is raped by an acquaintance of her married boyfriend and then pushed over a desert cliff by the boyfriend himself, only to survive and begin hunting her persecutors. Given both the French film’s plot and the kinetic, blood-drenched direction of first-time filmmaker Coralie Fargeat, it is understandable that paramedics had to tend to one overwhelmed audience member when Revenge received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. The screening also shook its star, who was seeing the movie for the first time.
“It was amazing, just hearing the audience root for the character,” Lutz said, when EW met with her and Fargeat at a restaurant in Los Angeles last month. “A group of girls told me, ‘You’re all of us!’ It made me feel that it is a movie that gives you power and that’s how I felt through the shooting of the movie. I felt so much more confident the more we were shooting. Even just watching it makes me feel like I’m strong.”
If Revenge seemed more-than-relevant to many members of the Toronto audience, the film has only become more timely in the months since, as allegations of sexual harassment and rape were levelled against Harvey Weinstein, leading to a host of other male celebrities being accused of similarly terrible acts, and in turn the rise of the Time’s Up movement.
“The timing is very striking,” says Fargeat. “But I think it is not that much coincidence, because everything that was revealed by the Weinstein story was already existing before. Of course, as a woman, I am really sensitive to those issues and the imbalance that I can feel in society. But when art meets actuality meets the news, it’s special. I’m really proud that the movie can be seen in that movement.”
Fargeat wrote the script for Revenge around two-and-a-half years ago. “Basically, I really wanted to make a genre film for my first feature, because that’s really the cinema I love,” says the director. It all started with her central character, a “very powerful Lolita icon, that brings a real attraction and fascination on her, because she’s physically fascinating. At the same time, guys think she can be crushed and [that] they can get rid of her as soon as she doesn’t act the way they want. I was very interested with the idea to bring her from the very typical Lolita-Barbie-girl to the very strong powerful warrior. All the elements started to build around that.”
At the start of the film, Fargeat deliberately depicts Lutz’s character, Jen, as a flirt, notably in a scene where she dances with Vincent Colombe’s Stan, the character who will later rape her. Lutz reveals that the sequence gave her pause.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to push it this much, because then, of course [her attacker] is going to think that she wants to go with him,'” says the actress. “Coralie told me, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do. I want people to understand that no matter what she does, it doesn’t allow him to rape her.’ It didn’t click with me at the beginning, but then I started seeing her point of view, which became my point of view.”
In many ways, Fargeat’s film would seem to fall squarely in the so-called “rape and revenge” genre, a cinematic grouping which, thanks to films like 1974’s Death Wish and 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave, has become notorious for explicitly showing sexual violence against women. However, in her film, Fargeat does not show the assault against Jen, instead having her camera follow another of the male characters as he leaves the scene of the attack and turns on the television so as not to hear what is happening behind him. The resulting sequence succeeds in being comparatively non-exploitative while still filling the viewer with a sense of out-and-out horror.
“I chose to keep [the rape] really out of frame, but very violent at the same time,” says Fargeat. “The guy doing nothing, turning [on the] TV, this is as violent as the rape itself. But moreover, for me, the movie isn’t about the rape. The rape is just one horrible extreme element of the way those guys can act toward a woman. The rape is a symbol of all that. I had no use in showing it.”
In fact, Fargeat is disinclined to label her film a rape and revenge movie. “It’s much more a revenge movie,” says the director.
Fargeat shot Revenge in the Moroccan desert, which brought challenges beyond the intensity of the material. “It was tough for many reasons. We were shooting in the desert in February and it was freezing cold. Everybody was dressed with winter clothes, and scarves, and gloves, and everything — and Matilda was in a bikini. So, for her, it was very demanding.”
As the film progresses, Lutz’s character becomes coated in a layer of filth and blood, which required the actress in turn to spend hours being made-up before the day’s shooting could begin.
“The beginning of the film is way easier, because I was clean — just a bit of makeup and extensions and stuff like that,” says the actress. “But then it became harder. I had three hours to prep in the morning and an hour-and-a-half to take everything off. I was basically always awake.”
Lutz admits that, as the shoot progressed, she began to choose sleep over personal hygiene. “Honestly, the first two nights, I really made sure to like wash everything off,” she says. “My hair was so mixed with dirt and blood that I couldn’t even take it off. I could have, but I had to go to bed. I knew that the next day I was going to be back in dirt and blood. So, I was doing as much as I could and then I was like, ‘You know what? Whatever.’ By the end of the shoot I had so much dirt in my skin, in my feet, and in my nails that it took forever to really wash it off. Lot of pedicures!”
The sheer amount of fake blood used on the production inspired some entertainingly bizarre moments during the shoot.
“There were some very absurd situations, where the characters were just sticking to the walls with the fake blood, their own arms were sticking to themselves,” says Fargeat. “It added something [to] the spirit of the movie.”
Lutz and Fargeat’s efforts have been rewarded by a hugely successful festival run and positive reviews — the film currently has a 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Predictably, the project has also attracted internet trolls, though Fargeat sounds unconcerned about this development, and a just-released new trailer for the film actually incorporates negative YouTube comments into its sales pitch.
“On [the] Internet there are the kind of haters and the trolls that are always there,” says the director. “The movie, it can raise very, very violent reactions. Some guys are not going to be happy about it. It’s always striking, but for the most part, the press and the audience really had great reactions, so that was the best reception we could have.”
Fargeat is already at work on her next project, but says it is too early to reveal any details.
“I’m still writing at the moment, so it’s the very beginning of the process,” she explains. “It will be a very different movie, but I think there will still be elements I love, in terms of excess, or being able to go very far in one direction, and dealing with characters being out of control at some point.”
So, will the director be requesting buckets of blood again?
“I guess there will be blood,” she laughs.
Revenge opens theatrically and On Demand May 11. Watch the film’s trailer above.