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French thriller finds rich, handsome and married Richard (Kevin Janssens) spending a couple of days at his desert retreat with his pretty young lover, the vivacious Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) before a hunting trip. When his friends Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) show up a day early, they discover Richard’s little secret and Stan especially develops an attraction to the young woman. A night of partying finds Jennifer being flirtatious and friendly and Stan taking it way too seriously. With Richard away the following morning, Stan accosts and rapes Jenn while Dimitri ignores her cries for help. When Richard returns and the traumatized Jennifer threatens to tell Richard’s wife about everything, it only gets Jen pushed off a cliff and impaled on a branch. Badly injured and bleeding, Jennifer survives and when the three men come to ‘clean up their mess’, the hunters become the hunted.
Stylish and brutal thriller is directed by Coralie Fargeat from her own script. Let’s get out of the way that it is fairly preposterous that anyone could survive a fall that’s anywhere from thirty to forty feet and being impaled on a branch at it’s bottom. The trauma alone would be catastrophic, not to mention the loss of blood. If you can grant director Fargeat a little suspension of disbelief that Jennifer could survive and that her peyote-induced self surgery would heal her well enough to take on her well-armed and healthy pursuers, then you are in for an intense and blood-soaked revenge flick. It’s also one with some feminist commentary on how women are viewed. In the eyes of Richard and his buddies, Jennifer is fine as long as she’s being a sex kitten. When Stan violates her and she is distraught, suddenly it becomes an inconvenience to them that must be gotten rid of. We find that Jennifer is just a simple piece of meat to them…and it’s this arrogance and underestimation that allows a wounded Jennifer to get the upper hand and get armed herself. Coralie Fargeat is never exploitative with the material, but doesn’t ignore the exploitation elements as we do get plenty of blood spilled and Jennifer’s natural charms are not ignored either, even when transformed into a scantily clad Rambo. The rape scene is handled deftly and shows just enough to horrify and the tense and blood-drenched showdown between Jenn and Richard back at the maze of a house is riveting. On a technical level Fargeat makes great use of the desert locations and there is some stunning cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert with a great electronic score by Rob.
The cast are all good here. Matilda Lutz is very strong as Jenn. She is a fiery and sexy young woman who transforms into a survivor and a killer when brutalized. The actress is beautiful and the film does focus on her natural attributes, but she has a smoldering intensity that makes you believe Richard and friends might have tried to kill the wrong woman. Kevin Janssens is good as Richard. He seems like a charming man, though we can’t outright like him as he is cheating on his wife. Once his perfect life is threatened, we see the true colors of a cruel and vicious person. Janssens portrays this very well and we come to dislike him extremely. Same goes for Stan who is given the perfect amount of sleaze and creepiness by actor Vincent Colombe. Stan makes us uncomfortable from the start and his horrible act on Jennifer is no surprise. When she goes on the offensive, the coward within Stan is revealed. Last but not least, Guillaume Bouchède is also good as the lazy slob that is Dimitri. At first he just seems too apathetic to do the right thing, but during the hunt he reveals a man with a cruel streak who enjoys killing. All three men are detestable and we want to see their comeuppance. Good work from the small cast.
This isn’t the first film where a woman got revenge on those who defiled her. Films like I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 had women violently serving justice on wrong-doers decades ago. It’s Coralie Fargeat’s approach, that is both stylish and yet unflinchingly brutal, that keeps the story effective. There is a feminist angle in the portrayal of how little regard these men have for the young woman, as if she is just a sex toy and one to be disposed of when they are done. A type of brutish thinking we see reflected in today’s headlines all too often. Jennifer proves them wrong. Matilda Lutz is a powder keg as Jennifer and the men who abused her certainly have it coming…and we are rooting for the young woman to give them their due. An intense and blood-soaked thriller from a director to keep an eye on.
Rated 3 (out of 4) bullets.