'Revenge' is Marketed as a #MeToo Movie, But Might Be Part of the Problem

Matilda Lutz in 'Revenge'

If you are a woman on the internet, there is a good chance you've already heard about new thriller/horror movie, Revenge, thanks to the fact that it's being promoted almost exclusively as part of the new wave of female empowerment in Hollywood.

"Grim and gruesome, and boasting a style that’s as unsubtle as it is scintillating, it’s a blast of merciless malevolence tailor-made for the #MeToo era," announces Nick Schager at the Daily Beast.  Another male writer, Taylor Antrim, called it "a radical provocation about female power," in a Vogue article titled "Revenge Is an Exploitation Movie for the #MeToo Era." (Isn't the whole point of the #MeToo era no more exploitation?)

I have not seen Revenge, but Coralie Fargeat's debut film concerns a woman named Jen (played by Matilda Lutz) seeking bloody vengeance against her attackers, after being raped by two of them and thrown off a cliff by another. It is a movie that wants viewers -- particularly female ones -- to revel in a comeuppance fantasy. Revenge also wants to stand as a warning to men that, if you exploit and abuse women, there will be dire consequences. Sounds pretty satisfying, right? So why did it take me four viewings to even get through the first trailer?

Based on the previews alone, Revenge looks a great deal more problematic and painful to watch than any of the articles I've read about it have suggested. Those of you not triggered by images of sexual harassment and assault might wish to watch the trailer, but if you are sensitive to such content, please take my word for it and just skip it.

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In an LA Times interview with Coralie Fargeat, the writer-director said she didn't want Jen "to be the poor little girl that was going to be chased." Yet that's exactly what we see in the trailer -- a vulnerable woman in her underwear getting chased through the desert by three men. It is harrowing, even in short form.

There's a moment, 1:27 into the trailer, when the phrase “Gouges the male gaze out of our eye balls” pops up on screen (a quote from Dread Central's Anya Stanley). The line is almost immediately juxtaposed with images of Jen's bare and bloodied legs. The way the camera disembodies her limbs and rotates around them actually is Male Gaze 101. She might be hunting down her attackers and killing them at that point, but we still get panned close-ups of her almost naked body.

In another irony, Coralie Fargeat told the LA Times: "Seeing her as attractive and thinking you can get rid of her as you want really says something about the male gaze and the way women are considered." So why film Lutz's body in the exact way women have been filmed by male directors for eons?

The problem with Revenge isn't just what the viewer must endure before the retribution begins, it's the nature of how Jen is presented. The character -- a woman having an affair with a married man -- plays into stereotypes about what kinds of women get sexually assaulted. The revealing cropped top and pink panties we see her in before the attack also play into the worst kinds of stereotypes about how revealing clothing can get women into trouble.

"I was raised being told that being a girl is dangerous, that you can be raped," Fargeat told the LA Times, "that if you dress sexy you're going to be raped, and you think it's normal." If Fargeat is aware of this fallacy, why make it the jumping-off point for her entire movie?

Then there are the images of Jen casually sucking on a lollypop, lips pursed into a perfect pout. It's an obvious nod to classic Lolita imagery. Lolita, lest we forget, is the sexually exploited child at the heart of the Vladimir Nabokov novel of the same name, whose story was told from the perspective of a "tortured" pedophile. Lolita was brilliantly written in the sense of making readers feel complicit, but the nods to that character in Revenge suggest that movie audiences are complicit in what is about to happen to Jen. So is this movie really designed for female audiences? It doesn't feel like it.

A second trailer exacerbates the problem further, using "actual quotes from actual men online about Revenge" as a marketing tool. What follows is 40 seconds of the types of phrases women have to see every day online, blown up and put in all caps for emphasis.

"FEMINAZI: THE MOVIE."

"FEMALES ARE NOT STRONG OR INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO EVEN BUST A GRAPE IN A FOOD FIGHT."

"WHAT THE F**K IS WITH ALL THOSE NEW MOVIES AND WOMEN IN POWER EVERYWHERE?"

In doing this -- and legitimizing trolls in the process ("Look ma! I made it into a movie trailer by abusing women online!") -- Revenge is working overtime to emotionally manipulate women into thinking that going to see this movie is somehow going to make daily sexism and abuse more tolerable.

The problem is, as we know all too well, rape is not a fictional construct. It's not even an obscure one. RAINN reports that: "On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States," and that "82% of all juvenile victims are female," and "90% of adult rape victims are female." Because of this, rape scenes are extraordinarily difficult to watch for a great many women -- some because it reminds them of things they have already endured in their own lives; others because they live in constant fear of it happening to them.

It's nice that Lutz has said that starring in the movie made her feel stronger, more confident, and less fearful in her own life. And everyone else behind Revenge might have started this project with good intentions. But the methods and imagery used to get to the end product ultimately undercut any positive, empowering message that might have been possible here.

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What we're left with is a movie in which a vulnerable woman is transformed into a badass heroine... by the men who rape her. If this had really been about making a revenge movie in the time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Jen would have started out as a badass, been underestimated by the men in her vicinity because of her appearance, fought off her attackers successfully, then hunted them down, one by one, for trying to violate her in the first place. Watching another woman get raped on screen is the last thing most of us want -- or need -- right now. And it's difficult to imagine that anyone involved in #MeToo or #TimesUp wants it either.

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