Sidewinder’s View: Revenge (2017) [SPOILERS]

From 2017, another of this past weekend’s movies, viewed through my Shudder subscription:

From IMDb:

“The story sees three wealthy, middle-aged CEOs – all married family men – get together for their annual hunting game in a desert canyon. It’s a way for them to let off steam and affirm their manhood with guns. But this time, one of them has come along with his young mistress, who quickly arouses the interest of the two others. Things get out of hand and she is left for dead in the middle of this arid hell. However, the young woman is very much alive, and the hunting game turns into a ruthless manhunt.”

-Written by AnonymousB

As someone who enjoys well-crafted, satisfying Vigilante-Revenge Thrillers, I’ve seen my fair share over the years, from the good (Rolling Thunder) to the bad (Fighting Back) to the merely forgettable.

A solid Vigilante-Revenge film introduces you to the kinds of characters you hope you never run into in the real world. Such films can also take you to times and places you realize (or hope) you’ll never travel to in actuality, providing  a few vicarious thrills along the way.

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When they’re expertly made, whether slick and big-budgeted or crude and low-budgeted, films in the Vigilante-Revenge sub-genre speak to me on that cathartic level. Occasionally, they provoke deeper thoughts about the subject of vigilantism in society.

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen any kind of Vigilante-Revenge flick that had me entertaining thoughts of mimicking anything I’d seen in the movie or had me convinced that I’d be able to get away with that same kind of vigilante behavior scot-free.

I’m a fan of this sub-genre, but I’m well aware of the distinction between day-to-day life and a scripted story. 

Perhaps I’m just an overly cautious person, but I’ve lived long enough and spent enough time in the real world to see just how horrifying, ugly and pointless someone’s existence can become once they decide to set down a path of vigilantism.

Though I don’t necessarily find them as satisfying as the escapist/crowd-pleaser entries in the sub-genre, the types of Vigilante-Revenge pictures that have hit me the hardest were those featuring violent situations that go horribly off the rails for the vengeful protagonists, i.e. Outlaw (2008), One-Eight-Seven (1997), Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974), or, the biggest gut punch of the bunch, Irreversible (2010), a movie so disturbing I never cared to sit through it again after that first viewing.

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These are films that deal severe consequences to their central characters for their actions, whether those actions were calculated or carried out hastily in a burst of raw emotion. These are the movies that serve to remind me, sometimes in the harshest manner, that certain ideas are best left on movie screens.

Whether a movie’s goal is to provoke serious thought or simply entertain, or both, a well-made Vigilante-Revenge story has to have one thing going for it if it’s going to be effective at all: A central character, or characters, whom the audience can relate to and develop a rooting interest in when the story takes its inevitably hairy turn.

I’m aware that audience perception will always be subjective when it comes to cinematic protagonists. A character written sympathetically can still fail if the actor cast in the role is someone a viewer feels a visceral dislike for.

A Vigilante-Revenge flick can still win me over even if the central character’s flawed, so long as there’s something in their personality or their screen experience I can relate to.

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Very glossy and slick in terms of its cinematography, editing and production value, Revenge is a critically-acclaimed, controversial French Action-Thriller featuring a small cast of characters, which adds to its overall sense of isolation and concentrated tension.

The premise in Revenge was established efficiently without feeling rushed. In this modern age of lazy or pretentious storytelling styles, I thought that approach was admirable in and of itself.

The moment where one character suddenly turned on another in an act of violent betrayal, while I knew it was coming, still shocked the hell out of me. I was aware of the ‘what’, but was floored by the ‘how’, if that makes any sense.

The action and suspense held my interest– I loved that this was an Action-Thriller which told its story visually instead of using an overabundance of dialogue. The performances were all solid.

But…and here’s the main problem I had with the film…I didn’t exactly feel invested in any of the characters. During this initial set-up, I had difficulty relating to any of them. 

The female lead is introduced as the mistress of a married, handsome rich dude. She’s revealed to be aware of his married status when, for a moment, she appears upset after the douchebag reminds her that he’s married with children. He’s able to easily redirect her, though, with a slimy compliment about her backside…

…to which my wife said “And she’s smiling about that”.

Next day, the guy’s two middle-aged hunting buddies show up a day early, interrupting the handsome douchebag’s romantic getaway with his mistress. Following some brief conversation about her goal to move to Los Angeles, where her desire is to “be noticed”, the mistress turns on some music and performs a little dance for the approving dudes.

When her married boyfriend declines her invitation to dance, she dances with one of his homely married pals instead, rubbing herself against him, exciting him…

…at which point my wife said “Why is she doing that?” 

Because, I told her, in so many words, the story hinges on every principal character, even the one we’re meant to root for, making poor decisions which end up coming back to bite them.

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While I may have found the characters’ behavior compelling enough to stick with the movie and see how it all turned out, I found myself unable to view any of them as three-dimensional human beings. They were just functionary caricatures in a Thriller, placed there to forward the plot and its action.

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Once the plot kicked into gear with the main character surviving that sudden drop off the cliff, the story landed squarely in the land of absurdist make-believe. Which is fine, but, going by all the praise this film received from critics, I was surprised to find it taking that route. I guess I expected an Action Thriller a bit more firmly rooted in the real world, instead of a French province of Cannon Films, á la Quentin Tarantino.

Part of the reason I had trouble accepting the film as anything remotely based in the real world had to do with the film’s depiction of how the young woman survived the initial attempt on her life and how she managed to patch her wounds up sufficiently enough to run, hide and fight back against her three assailants.

My wife observed this and commented, several times throughout the film, “That’s some Tarantino shit”. I had to concur.

If this same story had been made into a film thirty years ago bearing the Cannon Films logo, this character’s sudden proficiency at improvised survivalist first aid skills would have been met with audience groans and laughter, but…

…I guess if one can accept the character surviving a fall off a high cliff onto a sharp tree stump which impales her through the abdomen…if you’re willing to buy into that implausibility, the screenwriter may have figured, why not go for broke and write the character into Rambo territory with absolutely no explanation about her background.

Case in point: The tree stump-inflicted abdominal wound.

On several occasions over the past 24 years, I’ve seen, firsthand, a few nasty, knife-inflicted stomach wounds. Intestines were always trying to poke out through the gaping punctures or lacerations.

Yet in Revenge, after suffering an abdominal impalement from a sliver of wood as thick as a pool cue handle, the character has no pesky intestines to push back into the wound or repair. Fortunately, the sharp tip of the tree stump navigated cleanly around the intestines, missing them completely, before exiting the character’s belly.

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But…I guess if you bought that character surviving the fall off the two-hundred foot cliff…why not go for broke, have her set fire to the stump she’s impaled on so that it burns away and topples over…

…then have her hike a mile or two through the desert with the large sliver of wood still jutting out of her gut, have her wrestle to the death with one of her assailants, gather up his weapons and supplies, find a cave hidden in the desert landscape she’s visiting for the first time ever…

…then have her use peyote for anesthetic purposes, enlarge her exit wound with a hunting knife and pull the large wood sliver out of her abdomen—again, without any of her intestines making an appearance—then cauterize the wound with a flattened-out beer can heated over an open flame, which, of course, leaves the beer can’s eagle logo burned perfectly on her stomach.

“Wouldn’t she have internal bleeding? How would closing the outside of her wound stop that?”, my wife wondered out loud. Why bring reality into the movie at this point, I replied.

Wounded characters in the film also lose ludicrous amounts of blood, leaving wide, lengthy trails in their wakes, but…this is a Cannon-ish, exaggerated Action-Thriller, so, hey, what else can you expect?

All told, in spite of its characters, who never quite sprang to life as nuanced, three-dimensional human beings, but action-propelling caricatures…

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…in spite of its ridiculously implausible levels of traumatic physical injury and blood loss…

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…in spite of those things, I still found Revenge to be a slick, technically superior Action Thriller which I enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level.

It’s much better than most contemporary films of its genre. I’d recommend for a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Cannon Films and Quentin Tarantino.  

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