If the revenge movie is a staple of American exploitation cinema, the female revenge film pushes exploitation to extremes. At its most gratuitous it makes a spectacle of sexual assault on a female victim for the gruesome entertainment of a male audience, then celebrates righteous vengeance on the perpetrators with additional spectacle. It’s a genre dominated by male filmmakers, which makes the new movie Revenge a welcome alternative to the male gaze. Director and screenwriter, Coralie Fargeat, making her feature debut, brings her own sensibility to these conventions.
Here are some of the films that paved the way for Revenge. No, these are not the pulp thriller answers to #MeToo—grindhouse exploitation and serious art film alike, they have their sexist blind spots—but they do offer a little more complexity to the formula and, sometimes, they empower women beyond simple violence.
Revenge: The Complete First Season (ABC), a juicy nighttime soap opera of the rich and beautiful in the Hamptons and a ferocious scheme of righteous vengeance, was one of the success stories of the 2011-2012 TV season, thanks to the gleeful bad behavior and queen bee command of Madeleine Stowe.
“When I was a child, my father was framed for a crime he didn’t commit,” intones our heroine over the show’s credits. “Before he died, he left a road map for revenge that led me to the people who destroyed our lives. Sometimes the innocent get hurt, but one by one the guilty will pay.”
That pretty much sums it up. Emily VanCamp is the rich, young, and beautiful Emily Thorne, the new girl amidst the old money, and Madeleine Stowe is the JR of this little Dallas: Victoria Grayson aka Queen Victoria, the social monarch of the Hamptons. She’s no slouch herself when in comes to revenge, as the first episode shows, but she’s downright petty compared to the righteous vengeance that Emily quietly and cruelly unleashes.
Part of the show’s attraction is the contrast of the pretty, seemingly benign society girl who is really a ruthless, focused, brutally committed woman on a mission of revenge. The extent of the betrayal and the conspiracy that drives her unfolds over the course of the season, and by the end the possible reverberations are epic.