Wealthy, married Richard (Kevin Janssens) brings his girlfriend Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) to a luxury villa deep in the desert – the sort of posh pad accessible only by helicopter – for a few days of recreational sex and drugs as an aperitif for a hunting trip with buddies Stan (Guillaume Boudeche) and Dimitri (Vincent Colombe). The other two guys, significantly less attractive, show up early and crash the party. While Richard is out on an errand, Stan presumes he has the right to bag Jen. Rejected, he gets angry-scary and rapes her, while Dimitri shrugs it off an eats a candy bar. The girl, seen as disposable even by the irritated Richard, refuses to be paid off and shipped out … so Richard shoves her off a cliff. Impaled on a dead tree and swarmed over by ants, she should die …but doesn’t, showing near-supernatural reserves of strength unmatched in female revenge pictures outside of Savaged, in which the avenger is brought back to life by Native American magic. Here, the director’s hand – and, later, drugs – manage the same trick. The trio of macho creeps set out to tidy up their mess by hunting her down and she goes to extremes to get back at them.
Scripted and directed by debuting Coralie Fargeat, this French production – shot in gorgeous North African locations but set in America somewhere – travels some well-trod paths as it rehashes the plot of I Spit On Your Grave, with wilderness survival and human-hunting elements tipped in from First Blood and The Most Dangerous Game. It even harks back a little to the Raquel Welch Western Hannie Caulder – and the stark, fill-the-screen-with-red-letters title has been used so many times before that it seems more like a generic label. Lutz, the lead from Rings, is ogled by the camera throughout – initially as a porn fantasy tease with lollipop and star earrings, an ass compared to a peach and a little alien (?) in dialogue and a sultry pout, but increasingly as a wounded, yet resilient creature, branding herself with a beer-can eagle-scar, dirtied and bloodied and grimly intent on getting her own back. Fargeat isn’t the first female creator to make a rape-revenge film, but does bring a slightly different sensibility – Janssens is naked onscreen more than Lutz, with as many lingering shots of his ass as hers, and the final confrontation has him fighting while naked and bleeding, so that his fantasy hideaway pad is redecorated with slimy blood; and the initial assault is shot tactfully, with the camera on the unconcerned face of the least-culpable, somehow creepiest of the men in the next room as Jen is violated.
What the film doesn’t do is come up with much in the way of narrative complexity: there are no new twists to the old old story and a basic, predictable plot plays out at a protracted 108 minutes. It’s also careless about details (that beer-can brand should show mirror-writing), with the heroine occasionally acting foolishly (not stealing a pair of boots when she has a chance) for the film’s convenience. We get almost no backstory, but can infer detailed relationships between the characters from the way they act in extremis – which doesn’t get round the fundamental problem that even as she suffers disproportionately it’s hard not to pass judgement on a woman who’s willing to shack up with the great-looking, plainly rich but also deeply smarmy and unpleasant Richard in the first place. However, it’s redeemed by the sort of superb, imaginative filmmaking that ought to land Fargeat much bigger projects. At one point, Jen doses herself with peyote as she performs impromptu self-surgery, but the whole film has a hallucinatory quality, with vivid, near-expressionist performances – the villains embody a whole range of male ills, with the initial rapist hypocritically squeamish and cowardly as his friends start enjoying the chance to hunt and kill a woman – and grand guignol gore dwelled on in painful, bloody close-up, with plentiful ants crawling over open wounds. It has a terrific score from Rob (aka Robin Coudert), who has worked on the Maniac remake and Horns.
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Available digitally in the UK September 7; on DVD October 1.