First Reformed (2017)

Written and Directed by: Paul Schrader

   First_Reformed         Sombre, historic, (potentially) creepy: these are all adjectives conjured in the opening scenes of First Reformed, starting with a still image of a Dutch-colonial church in modern Albany. Of course it’s hard to know exactly what ideas to associate with this setting. Does one think of the conservatism of small-town, white Christian America, or the progressivism of Northeasterners whose religious traditions trace back to those of English dissident-Christians fleeing persecution?

This tension provides an underlying foundation for First Reformed, the story of a the historic church’s minister, Toller (Ethan Hawke). Right away we are made to understand he is devout. Given the distinct political positions “Hollywood” and “Christianity” occupy in American society, this shapes our assumptions further. Soon thereafter, however, we discover Toller can in fact move between philosophical traditions, existing somewhere on the liberation theology spectrum. The contrast between this information and our initial assumptions (that he’s part of mainstream “Christian America”) goes on to feed the film’s plot.

I say all of this because the experience of watching First Reformed is one of seeing dichotomies played with. In addition to challenging the assumptions of many viewers about the relationship between “Christian” and “liberal/secular” America, First Reformed also juxtaposes: the past and the present/ future (most notably in a scene where a humourless hymnal choir sings a Neil Young song); the relationship between self-help and selflessness; the political and the apolitical; the folksy chapel and the megachurch (led by Pastor Jeffers (Cedric “The Entertainer” Kyles)) and even popular understandings of Christianity in contrast to popular understanding of Islam.

Most important to this film, however, is its exploration of the dichotomy between the clergy and the layman. Toller’s life is gradually, but drastically altered after an encounter with Mary, a pregnant woman (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband wants her to abort. At the outset of this plot we still expect Toller’s character to be a stereotypical American Christian: staunchly pro-life. His exact politics on abortion are never made clear, however, he does respond to the situation with sageness and authoritativeness.

The sageness never goes away. The authoritativeness doesn’t either, at least not in Toller’s eyes. The audience, by contrast, is gradually brought to see Toller’s vulnerabilities. The odd result of this is that as the film draws to its close, viewers are almost made to feel that they are watching an indie-drama about a young, hip millennial trying to get their life together, not the story of a 46 year-old Christian authority.

First Reformed is not a plotless movie. It develops its character, leading him to make a dramatic decision as the film approaches its climax. That said, because it is so focused on the idiosyncrasies of its protagonist, it nonetheless manages to resemble low-intensity films in the process. This rich, blend of cinematic-character, coupled with the film’s environmentalist politics, makes viewing it a very striking experience.

There are times when First Reformed goes beyond being an interesting piece of art. The film’s first environmentalist scene is near apocalyptic in its rhetoric (a feeling heightened by the story’s Christian foundations). It was a scene that gave me pause. Perhaps it was striking and different enough to indeed have political weight, or perhaps it would disturb viewers to the point of them wanting to pretend that climate change doesn’t exist. Either way, this intense feeling is toned down a little, as the film comes to be more about Toller’s persona.

First Reformed is a political movie that wants to provide answers, but is too pre-occupied with exploring contradictions to ultimately produce those answers (so the film is a contradiction itself). Disturbing, whimsical and directly ideological, it has the potential to be the kind of gospel that resonates in and beyond the pulpit.

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On Chesil Beach (2017)

Written (the screenplay and the original novel) by: Ian McEwan

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

On_Chesil_Beach_(film)          When a film is “so good that bad” that generally means it was written to be appreciated in one way (eg as a serious drama) and ends up appreciated in another (as a comedy). I would not consider On Chesil Beach to be amongst the ranks of “Bad Movies,” however, it’s certainly got a small dose of their character. The film opens to newlyweds Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) walking on a beach before returning to a hotel where they dine together. The set up and the dialogue is cartoonishly posh. Perhaps its just because I’m used to thinking of Ronan as a “young” actor, but there’s something about her character’s wedding night that feels fake : it is as if we are watching a parody of proper British couple eating. Having not read the novel on which the film is based, I was left in those moments wondering: “am I about to watch a piece of absurd comedy?”

My hypothesis about the film being a comedy was able to linger a few scenes longer.  For example, I was struck by a flashback scene which features a character abruptly being hit by a train. Something about the delivery was off. It resembled the slapstick violence of Amelie rather than the tragic moment that it was supposed to be.

Soon, however, the film’s seriousness became apparent as the plot went back and forth between present and future: Florence and Edward’s joyous courtship, and their troubled wedding night. This contrast at times felt interesting, however, the darker side of the film’s plot felt poorly paced. It is revealed that Florence has a tragic secret. The nature of this secret quickly becomes obvious, however,  making the build up to it feel underwhelming.

On Chesil Beach thus starts which tonal weirdness, and has a predictable middle. As for its ending: it’s rather sentimental. It’s the kind of thing you’ll like if you’re particularly invested in the story, but will dismiss as predictable if you are not particularly in love with the characters. That said, I have recently written about the danger of using heuristics (words like “predictable,” sentimental” or “subtle”) in criticizing films.Yes, On Chesil Beach has all of those flaws, but the film is an example of how the sum of parts can be greater than the whole.

Sure, on its own, “the end” of On Chesil Beach is too sentimental to feel interesting, yet when viewed with “the middle” in mind, “the end” feels like a stroke of genius. The middle of the film seems to imply the story will be about the revelation of the dark secret, yet that dark secret ultimately takes a back seat to another problem. This other problem, we learn, is what the story was, in a way, about the whole time.

It’s hard to say what the film is ultimately about with out giving too much away, so I’ll say this much. The film sets us up to believe it is a story with a “bad guy.” When the sort of plot-twist happens, however, the film becomes about a different kind of story, one in which there isn’t a bad character, but a good character made bad by the rigidity of social convention. This theme in turn enriches the film’s awkward beginning. The poshness displayed in the early dinner seen can no longer be written off as awkward, unintentional comedy. Instead it comes to fit in within the film’s theme that people can undermine their own best interests, and perhaps principles, because they are actors rigidly playing roles as written in the script of social convention.

On Chesil Beach does not feel like a subtle film, but upon reflection, you may find there’s more to it than immediately meets the eye. It is a film that speaks to how alien and unpleasant the social politics of “the past” can feel. And by default, it also begs the question of how social convention continues to turn people against each other to this day.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo

Avengers_Infinity_War_poster[1] When I first saw the trailer for Avengers Infinity War, I mentally sorted it into the so-bad-it’s-good category of film. In other words, it was the kind of thing I secretly desired to see but would make fun of in respectable company. Its trailer reminded me a classic viral video called Too Many Cooks (which you should watch, but in case you don’t the joke is…well…too many characters). The film seemed like the kind of thing that was parodying itself. Surely, I thought, no wise writer would try and fit that many main characters into a story. How, for instance, I asked could they find screen time for the eighth most important character in Black Panther? How, I asked, could they justify bringing in all six Guardians of Galaxy characters, when their’s feels more like a sci-fi than a superhero franchise?

In short, going into the film, part of me knew it had too much going on to be well written and as such I was willing to dismiss it. On the other hand, part of me wanted to believe that the writers were aware of this absurdity, and as such would brilliantly weave all of those fates together into a masterpiece (or at very least present a self-aware piece with Too Many Cooks style humor). Unfortunately, it was the first of these statements that proved true.

Avengers: Infinity War opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) confronting Thanos (Josh “I’m having a very good Marvel Month” Brolin). This is the point where I have to admit I’m no comic-book-nerd nor have I systematically seen each Marvel film. That caveat noted, I found this introduction oddly direct yet simultaneously very confusing. We are not introduced to Thanos, we are just expected to know who this purple giant is and somehow make sense of the complex dealings he has with Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thanos, it turns out, is a solid villain. His ambition is to save the universe by wiping out half of its population. He is a twisted idealist, who despite being incredibly powerful, makes himself sufficiently vulnerable to regularly engage with, and even take a punch or two, from the film’s heroes.

Following the opening confrontation, the Avengers (an all star team of Marvel heroes) are gradually brought together. This allows for some pleasant comedic moments. Marvel heroes tend to be at least mildly funny, allowing for banter between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) or Thor and Star-Lord (who, in my Marvel naivety, I briefly confused for the Iron Giant (now that would be a cool, Too Many Cooks-esque cameo)) to be somewhat entertaining. From then on  the film gradually re-introduces characters including The Hulk (a funny, if, inevitably underused, Mark Ruffalo) Spider Man (Tom Holland) Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Captain America (Chris Evans), leaving time for funny banter, as well as some compelling drama (particularly in Thanos’ relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana)).

Infinity Wars’ problem, however, is that its humor peaks too early, giving way for dull action scenes. Its comedic style is also off-putting when it comes to its portrayal of Spider Man. That Marvel’s most famous superhero is left fairly one-dimensional (his one personality trait being that he seems to constantly, and nervously seek the approval of Iron Man) rings somewhat hollow. I could rant now about how hollywood needs to get over its intellectual-property bullshit and just accept that there were already good Spider Man movies made in the 2000s and there was no need to reinvent the character, but I suppose that’s going off topic.

Infinity Wars’ drama meanwhile, suffers from being too spread out, due to the film’s dearth of protagonists. Numerous characters die in the film, but these deaths lose their dramatic effectiveness due TO our understanding that they exist in a cinematic universe. In some cases we know these deaths to be temporary: some characters die way too quickly and unmarkedly given their importance in the franchise (also we know some of these characters are slated to appear in future movies). I understand that the writers had their hands tied when it came to writing these “deaths.” More frustrating, however, is the death of one character which is stylistically distinct enough from the others to give off the impression that it is a permanent.  This death scene is nonetheless,  so rushed and early in the script that it does no justice to its target. This character (who I will not name) is a sad casualty of Marvel’s Too-Many-Cooks foolhardiness that simply left them without enough screen timing to meaningfully tend to all the characters they chose to depict.

RIP *CHARACTER NAME CENSORED TO PREVENT SPOILERS*: you will be missed.

Perhaps Marvel nerds will love Infinity War. It certainly takes the Avengers’ struggle to a new level. Nonetheless, I suspect casual fans (especially ones like me who don’t watch the movies for their action scenes) may BE disappointed by the film’s narrative structure. Thanos is an engaging villain, and Thor, The Hulk, the Guardians and perhaps some of the others are fun protagonists. Unfortunately, the film seems to rely to heavily on the premise of “look at these cool characters fighting,” rather than truly considering how best to make their narratives collide.

Drugstore Cowboy (1988)

Directed by: Gus Van Sant Written by: Vant Sant and Daniel Yost

Drugstore_Cowboy        One of my favourite quotations is Marx’s line that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. In fact I’m sure I’ve opened an article that exact way before. I nonetheless feel inspired to cite it again, simply because I feel it has unique applicability in the case of Drugstore Cowboy.

One of the songs in the film is reggae tune “The Israelites” which includes the line “Look me shirts them a tear up, my trousers are gone/I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.” That song drew my attention to the similarities between Drugstore Cowboy and the 1967 film.

Drugstore Cowboy is the story of pill thief and heroin addict Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon), who operates alongside his girlfriend Diane (Kelly Lynch). This is where the Bonnie and Clyde parallels begin. Bonnie and Clyde are not in a romantic partnership. Bob and Dianne are. However, by the time of Drugstore Cowboy, Bob, much like Clyde, shows he is too caught up in his world of crime to be at all interested in sexual advances. Drugstore Cowboy also invokes the older film in featuring a single scene with cautionary warnings from Bob’s mother (the equivalent scene in the older film feature’s Bonnie’s mother).

When one hears the tragedy and farce quote, one expect history to repeat itself less tragically than the first time around: with more innate silliness. That is not the case with Bonnie and Clyde and Drugstore Cowboy. The older film is a mix of genres: it’s a western, a tragedy and a comedy. Drugstore Cowboy, reinvents this formula. Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, it is not a film with multiple tones: it has a constant dark edge to it. The farce of Drugstore Cowboy therefore is that it makes a mockery of the idea of a crime-drama-with-comedic-elements by showing there is regularly absurdity in the world of crime (for example, Bob’s superstition about leaving hats on beds), but that somehow even this humour is deadly serious.

Nowhere is the tonal contrast between Drugstore Cowboy and Bonnie and Clyde more apparent, however, than in the character of Nadine (Heather Graham). In Bonnie and Clyde the robbing couple’s gang is complimented by Clyde’s brother, a comparably generic character, and his wife Blanche, a parson’s daughter who is the gang’s innocent, reluctant tag-along. Nadine is the girlfriend of Bob’s underdeveloped gang member Rick, and though no parsons daughter, is very young and has no history of drug usage. Nadine’s innocence, however is less pronounced than Blanche’s, and more importantly, it’s a characteristic she rebels against. Thus again, through its seriousness, Drugstore Cowboy makes a mockery of Bonnie and Clyde’s imagining of the crime world: how, it asks, can an innocent gang member truly maintain themselves in a world that’s far from innocent.

None of this is to say that Drugstore Cowboy is the anti-Bonnie and Clyde. Both are dark films with humorous elements, and both seek to humanize those who have fallen onto the other side of the law. Nonetheless, there’s certainly something to Drugstore Cowboy’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Genre-mixing is often a character trait of great films, but its often something that throws viewers off. As I noted in my review of Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri, Martin McDonagh’s script was subject to somewhat undeserved flack due to the fact that many reviewers didn’t consider its multi-genre, complex tone when interpreting its message. Drugstore Cowboy is a different kind of a multi-genre film. Films like Bonnie and Clyde and TBOEM are like the color black: a mixture of all colors expressed together at once. Drugstore Cowboy, by contrast, is white: it is also all the colors, but in their natural unified state.

 

Deadpool 2

Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds. Directed by: David Leitch

Deadpool_2_poster     When I first saw Deadpool it struck me as one of the biggest compromises I’d ever seen: it broke enough rules to call itself experimental, while still meeting all expectations as a big-budget, crowd-pleasing action movie. I was pleasantly surprised by it, I’ll say that much.

I nonetheless did not think Deadpool 2 could be a good idea. Deadpool was interesting as a standalone work, but nothing it featured (fourth wall breaking, referentialism, self-deprecation, and excessive violence on the part of its protagonist) would be interesting when employed a second time around. My thoughts were all but confirmed in the film’s opening scenes in which Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) narrates his killings with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” blaring in the background.

Then a plot twist happened. I won’t say what it is, and for your sake you probably shouldn’t search it (don’t spoil the future moment). What I will say is that twist changed my impression of what I was watching for the better.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi succeeded because its writers asked the question “what kind of story should a sequel be?” and got the answer right. Rather than simply revisiting the gags and powers of its characters, it used them as an infrastructural base for telling a new kind of story: one that questions the nature of the Star Wars universe rather than simply continuing it. While I wouldn’t say Deadpool 2 challenges the nature of its predecessor, it also manages to be a significantly different kind of story, that nonetheless, uses the original film as a springboard for its success. Deadpool, as introduced in the original film, is an anti-hero. His motives rarely seem as pure as they should be, as he seems more driven by the prospect of annihilating his enemies than by the ideal of fighting for justice. Deadpool 2 gives us a character with those same traits, but one who has matured enough so that he is also ideal driven. Then the plot twist happens, temporarily shattering Deadpool’s sense of purpose. The result of this trauma is not Deadpool regressing back entirely to who he was at his worst. The shock does, however stimulate various elements of his persona including his hot-headedness and immaturity. In essence, Deadpool is a character created to entertain with his punches and foul mouth, yet he manages to come off as thoughtfully developed.

Deadpool 2 is also bolstered by its supporting cast. Josh Brolin plays an antagonist who is not stunningly original, but is made compelling via the emotional weight laid-bare on his rugged face. Karon Soni, whose character, Dopinder, appears in taxi-cab gags in the first movie, returns as a quasi-side kick in this film. Dopinder is not Deadpool’s only sidekick, however. At one point in fact, Deadpool recruits a whole team of them. While these characters come across as parodies of superheroes, many are in fact (loose) adaptations of Marvel comic characters.

Most prominent among the film’s side characters, however, is Russell Collins (Julian Dennison), an anti-hero in, ironically, a film about an anti-hero. Russel is a mistreated orphan with super powers, and his appearance essentially makes Deadpool Hunt for the Wilderpeople with a big budget. This superficial textual similarity, however, contributes to Deadpool’s originality and effectiveness as a piece of story telling. Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells the story of an orphan bonding with a curmudgeon over a prolonged period while they are chased by a comically, pathetic antagonist. Deadpool 2 challenges Deadpool and Russell to develop similar bonds, but in a very different context: one that is higher-stakes, much faster-paced.

Deadpool 2 is full of silly references, but as superhero films go, it manages to be thematically deep. This depth goes beyond the story of Deadpool and Russell. A prolonged portion of the film is set in a prison, a horrible place in which people’s pain is ignored and inter-inmate bullying goes unchecked. For a moment, it seems, the tough-on-crime logic of super hero movies is paused to critique the school-to-prison pipeline and prisons in general.

Of course, Deadpool 2 would not be a Deadpool movie if it was fully idealistic, and it ultimately maintains its protagonist’s commitment to gore. Even the relatively pacifistic Colossus (Stefan Kapičić (who repeatedly tries to teach Deadpool that killing is not the X-Man way) is implicated in the film’s violent ethos, at one point electrocuting a character in an unmentionable place. Whether this is a shortcoming or not is hard to say. Deadpool 2 ultimately comes across as a pretty strong superhero movie. Whether it could have been more, and whether it needed to be, is a question too abstract to answer.

Godard Mon Amour

Written and Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius 

Redoubtable           Upon hearing about Le Redoubtable, a biopic since retitled Godard Mon Amour, Jean-Luc Godard called the film a stupid idea. The critical consensus on the piece is not too far removed from Godard’s view. It seems, Hazanavicius’ script missed out on key details of Godard’s life and philosophy. This is a matter on which I will have to plead ignorance, particularly as someone who has never studied Godard in an academic setting. What I will say, however, is that I am sceptical that the film’s shortcomings are attributable to its not being biographical enough.

Back in December I reviewed England is Mine a biopic about pre-Smiths Morrissey. The film’s subject provided excellent character material: a depressed and morbid counter-cultural figure who is highly outspoken despite essentially being a rebel without a cause.That film’s mistake, however, was assuming that these personality traits alone provided enough material to create a story. Godard Mon Amour is built on similarly shaky foundations. Its story is essentially that Godard (Louis Garrel) is so caught up in the French “revolution” of 1968, and trying to wed his art and very purpose to that cause, that he can not relate decently to those around him, including his wife Anne Wiazemsky (Stacey Martin). Godard Mon Amour  is more engaging than the aforementioned film, but this is a result of its visuals more so than its plot structure. Godard Mon Amour is set against the electrifying backdrop of student protests. It also incorporates charming sets that pay homage to Godard’s films themselves (England is Mine has to settle for mundane, suburban Manchester). Narrative-wise, however, Godard Mon Amour is a highly repetitive piece. All it offers in the way of a plot trajectory is Godard’s development from being passionate and alienating to being very passionate and very alienating

This is not to say that Godard Mon Amour cannot be criticized, for Godard and/or Wiazemsky’s sake, for its historical inaccuracies, however, such criticisms do not address the film’s root problem. Simply put, films need to strive to be more than retellings of the biographies of cultural icons, no matter how quirky those icons are.

Having aired out this negativity I should clarify that Godard Mon Amour is not an awful film: it’s just lacking in the way of script-editing, and perhaps a good side plot or two. As I noted, its aesthetic is on point. That the film offers this aesthetic without the challenges that usually go into appreciating a Godard film is not a bad thing. The moral dilemma at the film’s centre is also an interesting one. Godard is depicted as being in pursuit of “Revolution” not just “reform.” While the film never makes clear exactly what he means, it is clear he is seeking to participate in the fundamental transformation of French and Global society. Eager not to be a hypocrite, and to meaningfully contribute to this cause, Godard becomes deeply resentful of most people around him. He even denounces his own works. As he puts it, “Yes I’m bourgeois, but at least I’m aware of it.” This attitude inevitably turns others, including Wiazemsky, against Godard, thus shapes the film’s drama.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times argues that the film fails to go into sufficient depth in exploring Godard’s cinematic-political philosophy, and as such, fails to do him justice as a person. “This version of Godard must choose between cinema and politics, a predicament that would be more credible if Mr. Hazanavicius had a credible conception of either term,” he explains. I’ll remain agnostic on Scott’s comment. To me, Godard’s political dilemma made sense: he embodied a struggle for purity that plagues activists of all ages. The film also had scenes that felt politically astute. For instance, there are segments where Godard struggles to articulate himself in just the right way at student activist meetings. These moments, to my eyes, eloquently captured the sectarian, rhetorical divides that can plague the far-left.

However, I can also accept that those less familiar with far-left politics might not understand Godard’s mental-situation and, as such, simply dismiss him as arrogant. Such viewers might indeed require, as Scott argues, more exposition on the content of Godard’s dilemma. It does not help with this ambiguity, that the Godard character’s misogyny also factors into the plot. I interpreted this misogyny as a reflection of the film’s  being set in an earlier era. I thus saw no connection between Godard’s misogynist behavior and his prickly, idealistic politics: the combination was simply tragic irony. Others, however, might eschew this more nuanced reading, for the view that Godard was simply unpleasant. Others still might opportunistically attempt to paint his socialism and misogyny as part of the same ideology (I’m looking at you, Bernie-slandering, Hilary-worshipping centrists!)

Godard’s La Chinoise, remains one of my favourite films. It is also not a film I would recommend to many, due to the specificity of its references. I would say almost the same of Godard Mon Amour. Casual Godard fans can enjoy it as an homage and a character study. Other film goers might be better seeing something. And Godardian purists, if I understand correctly, should steer clear of it entirely.

 

Revenge (2017)

Written and Directed by: Coralie Fargeat

255300R1There are two ways to watch Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. One is as a simple splatter film replete with both serious and Looney Tunes style violence. Another is as an exploration, if not a statement, on contemporary gender politics.

Revenge follows Jen (Matilda Lutz) as she stays with her romantic partner Richard (Kevin Janssen) at his extravagant hunting lodge in a desolate location. While Jen at first appears to be living the high life, dramatic twists in her fate leave her sexually assaulted and nearly dead. Bloodied and lost, she develops a taste for vengeance.

Jen’s story exposes a tension between different generations of/approaches to feminism. She has few lines in the movie, and prior to her assault she is most prominently portrayed as being seductive towards Richard as well as his guests. The camera regularly shows her from the waist down. Were the film shot by a male director one might be inclined to call Jen’s portrayal exploitative: while Jen’s is a story about sexual assault, the camera nonetheless objectifies her. This is a conclusion many second wave feminists would likely reach.

Revenge, however, was written and directed by a woman, leading me to think there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to its exploitative appreance. Critics of rape culture will often note that victims of sexual assault are blamed for what they wore, how they were behaving, etc.. Therefore, one could interpret the highly sexualized portrayal of Jen as a way of drawing attention to the problem of victim-blaming; a way of making clear that nothing justifies what happened to her.

Revenge does not only hit at divides in feminist thought: it also depicts fault lines within patriarchal male society. Perhaps you have become aware of a sub-type of misogynist known as the “incel” (involuntarily celebate). Incels essentialy see the world as one giant teen-movie high school in which women shun nerds for attractive/jock men (known in incel parlance as “Chads”). The difference between incels and stereotypical nerds, however, is that incels do not embrace their romantic awkwardness while finding self-worth in academic pursuits, fan-culture, etc. Instead, incels aspire to be like the Chads, and when they fail to reach this status, turn to violent, misogynistic revenge fantasies as a source of personal comfort.

Revenge features two main misogynist antagonists. One is, effectively, an incel, and one is a “Chad.” The incel character is the one who commits the sexual assault, but the Chad emerges as the film’s ultimate villain. In some ways, this serves as a commentary on the relationship between power dynamics and oppression. In the company of the Chad, the incel character is shaky, weak and shows he may even have some moral principles. When he is the most powerful man in a room, however, he become the tyrant himself, as further evidenced in a scene in which he gleefully drowns a spider with his urine.

So is Revenge saying that harmful behaviour is ultimately the result of personal insecurity? Does it preach that the path to overcoming oppression lies in challenging power relations and bullying-dynamics across the board? Perhaps its hints at that idea, but ultimately it’s a film that’s limited in its ability to philosophize due to its stylistic commitments. Therefore, the film’s real employment of power dynamics is to create two different kinds of villains. The Chad character is sinister. The incel, however, becomes Wiley Coyote. At times he is menacing, but more often than not, he is the victim of his own, and others’ plots.

Cinematically, Revenge’s depiction of its incel character is effective. As a film with very few characters and a simple story, its character differentiation is essential to its quality. Politically, however, the film’s depiction of the incel character is problematic. The character exists in a weird gray area between coming off as despicable and as worthy of pity. The result of the character’s coming across as pitiful is that the script does not seem to take his initial crime seriously. Conversely, by making the character’s pitifulness a joke, the film also fails in its attempt to reveal the complex, not-black-and-white, mindset that may  underline his criminal behavior.

In short Revenge reeks of politics, but the scent is empty. Is Revenge feminist or  is it not? Is it a critique of rape culture or is it not? Is it a statement about the root causes of criminality or is it not? I’m not sure. Then again, at very least Revenge is an artistic success in that it takes an overly simple concept, and with just enough pinches of cinematographic whimsy, character differentiation, and absurd grotesqueness, manages to make it engaging. In short, there are two ways to watch Revenge. Even if you find it comes up short in its explorations of gender politics, it at very least makes for a decent splatter film.