Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Fargeat uses a lot of old tricks to give her desert a haunting, mystical quality, but she uses them well in a film that oozes style." | Photo: Kevin Janssens

Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) is exceptionally good at one thing. She really knows how to turn people on. It's not just her pretty face, her perfect set of curves or the pleasure she takes in pleasuring her man. It's not just her stripper-style dancing, but the love of life that lies behind it. She has an infectious smile, a lightness of touch and that openness to life that comes from absolute confidence - the kind that people only really possess when they're too young to have seen much of the world. Young as she is, Jen believes that her married boyfriend loves her, that his friends respect her and that if she's nice to people they'll be nice to her. When all alone and faced with unwanted advances, she has no idea how to handle the situation. Afterwards, she still believes that her boyfriend will help her. She couldn't be more wrong.

If Jen is naive at around the age of 20, the men, in their forties, really should be smarter. Like many men, however, they assume that Jen, being good at that particular thing, will be no good at anything else. They're about to get a shock.

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Revenge themes are hardly in short supply in the movies. With a pared down plot and only four characters present for any substantial amount of time, this film relies entirely on force of personality. Thankfully, it has that in spades. Début director Coralie Fargeat immediately dispenses with the clichés of the rape revenge subgenre: the assault itself is shot with a focus on Jen's misery and no exposed flesh and there's no suggestion that it has, in itself, any kind of transformative effect on her life. It's the desire to survive that drives her. Abandoned out in the desert, hideously injured, she knows the men are coming to cover up their crime. Three trained hunters, heavily armed and in their element - but three hunters who underestimate her.

Fargeat uses a lot of old tricks to give her desert a haunting, mystical quality, but she uses them well in a film that oozes style. Heat haze and low-drifting dust, a throbbing blue sky and subtly distorted soundscape all contribute to a sense of displacement. Jen's survival isn't all that realistic but given this context that enhances rather than detracts from the impact of the film. A scene mid-way through that mixes psychedelic elements with extreme suffering provides a sense of catharsis and enables a transformation as much spiritual as physical.

There are a few careless slips that risk snapping the viewer out of this (did nobody think through the way printing works?) but overall it's very effective. Fargeat manages tension impressively and controls the apparent flow of time with a skill that most filmmakers take decades to develop. Lutz brings just the right blend of gaucheness and fury to the central role. As her boyfriend, Kevin Janssens embodies all the charm and cruelty popularly associated with privileged social status in the US, yet is never mistaken for someone whose power extends beyond that realm. He's heavily objectified by Fargeat's gaze, reminding us that he is merely human and putting him on a level with Jen, who has been looked at that way by the men from the start. This makes room for a final conflict that is psychological and personal rather than dependent on physical action alone.

Even those used to watching horror films are likely to find that there are scenes here that make them squirm. Nothing is altogether gratuitous, though. The copious amounts of blood in some scenes are essential to the film's aesthetic as the violence is to its structure. It's all delivered with extraordinary confidence, yet Fargeat seems to be looking at the world head on. Viewers will be waiting eagerly to see what she does next.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2019
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Director: Coralie Fargeat

Writer: Coralie Fargeat

Starring: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Guillaume Bouchède, Vincent Colombe, Avant Strangel

Year: 2017

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: France

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