It's no slight against Coralie Fargeat's vivid, vicious Revenge -- a film that will set midnight movie devotees cheering for generations -- that you've probably seen every scene in it before, in some form or another. Here's the beautiful young woman, the lover of a wealthy criminal, parading around the pool as the henchmen and the camera leer. Here, she's pawed at by a subordinate of that criminal, and then raped. And here she is left for dead, caked in blood, in a desert wasteland, vowing just what that title promises. Her mission: to hunt the bastards down.
Maybe, quite reasonably, you don't want to see that again. The cathartic release of the rape-revenge thriller, after all, depends upon watching yet another rape. Here, it's the one assault that mostly occurs offscreen, though the buildup is drawn out, cruelly playful, tense in a way that knots the stomach and lashes the conscience. But you've never seen these scenes through the eyes of Fargeat, who is making an uncommonly shrewd, sadistic and artful debut. Again and again, Revenge invigorates and interrogates the familiar, from the opening parody of the male gaze to a bathed-in-blood rebirth as potent as the one at the center of Neil Marshall's The Descent. Fargeat is thoughtful about the elements of her genre but also ferocious in her commitment to them. She has an eye for landscape, a love of light -- relish the infernal glare of the dust whenever a driver here hits the brakes at night -- and an all-too-rare mastery of geography in an action scene. It's also wicked pulp, replete with geysers of blood. Deaths are protracted, disgusting, as gratuitous as they are curiously invigorating.