REVIEW / THRILLER
128 minutes/Now showing on Netflix/****
The story: Three men are on a safari in the desert. One of them, Richard (Kevin Janssens), has brought his mistress Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) to the lodge. The party commences with plenty of booze and music, but things spiral out of control and, later, Jennifer is raped and left for dead in the sand.
The rape-revenge thriller is a staple of trash cinema, but this French production elevates the sub-genre with a fresh take - the idea that even "bad" girls need to be avenged.
Jennifer knows she is with a married man and the explicit opening scenes in the M18-rated film show that she revels in her sexuality and is willing to be a plaything for millionaire Richard.
Contrast this with others in the genre, such as Park Chan Wook's Lady Vengeance (2005), India's Bandit Queen (1994) or Hollywood's Straw Dogs (1971). Vengeance comes after a "pure" woman, in the traditional sense, is violated. The retributive killings are justified mainly by the loss of chastity.
Writer-director Coralie Fargeat makes a very assured feature debut in this brutal warrior woman story.
Jennifer is a party girl and a rich man's toy, not a good woman like their wives, the men sneer. So what do a few minutes of non-consensual sex matter to a woman like you, they ask, in words that might have come from any number of courtroom reports.
She has the audacity to disagree and that is when the blood flows.
Besides the gender power play that cuts to the core of misogyny, Fargeat nails the mechanics of the chase thriller.
The cat-and-mouse game is not just taut, but also stylish, almost hallucinatory, and set to the pulse of techno music. As in all good chase-survival films, the role of hunter and hunted flips a couple of times as traps and ambushes go awry.
Fargeat avoids modern cliches, such as altered timelines or found footage, to deliver a suspenseful nail-biter of a thriller, one that updates an old format with an interesting take on gender politics.