Coralie Fergeat, 2017, France
Out in the middle of nowhere in a luxury getaway, Richard (Kevin Jannsens) is planning on a dirty weekend with his girlfriend-on-the-side Jen (Matilda Lutz) before he gets married. She’s very obliging, acting like the archetypal pleasure girl, wearing skimpy stuff, looking continuously hot, dancing provocatively, etc. and generally playing up the “Lolita” vibe, lollipop and all. Then his friends turn up and this leads to her rape and her apparent murder. But she comes back from the dead as a spirit of vengeance.
And your mileage may vary but that looks very much like a murder as surely no one could get up from being impaled on a tree stump like that. You may then spend the rest of the film in a state of disbelief and snorting at any pretence it may have to internal logic. Jem is first defined by a rotting apple from which she took a bite (which made me smirk at its obvious symbolism) and waist-high camera angles and then later with a phoenix print burnt into her stomach (which made me laugh out loud at its obvious symbolism) so subtlety isn’t really on the agenda. The latter implies that perhaps Jem is more a spirit of vengeance, much like Michael Myers becomes the eternal bogeyman at the end of ‘Halloween’, but the rest of the film plays out with at least a passing allegiance to the principals of realism so some kind of credibility is in doubt.
But Corale Forgeat directs with shine and flare rather than grit and realism - carrying on the French Extreme Horror tradition - and its place as fantasy is clear. It’s like a rape revenge reverie set in the world of car commercials (and that may be part of the point). It’s brittle with silliness as much as it’s lacquered with style and the symbolism perhaps hints that it’s taking itself too seriously. If it has proclamations to subverting the rape-revenge thriller, this is as much a cartoon as many of its exploitation origins and without much characterisation for Jem, it’s hard for us to take her more than a show piece and cipher. And the bad guys are equally shallow, given typical misogynistic dialogue and crassly juxtaposed with lizards. Arguably, Richard is the most interesting character being both abominable and at odds with his more overtly obnoxious mates. He spends the last act showdown naked and there’s great skill with how his nudity is filmed – plenty of rump for the Female Gaze – and maybe this subtlety and artistry is maybe at odds with the scrappy exploitation this is surely commenting upon. This finale where the house is turned into a slippery bloodbath is a highlight.
With its aesthetic swinging between both the flamboyant and the obtuse there’s much to enjoy in its surface pleasures of outlandish revenge-fantasy-over-substance, but it succumbs to an underlying daftness and doesn’t really grope much more.