Woman-driven movies reclaim the revenge narrative with prevalence

(Photo by Kvnga/Unsplash)

By Aditi Balasubramanian
Boston University News Service

After her best friend is raped in high school and commits suicide when her rapists are left free to go, she swears revenge. If the justice system wasn’t going to help her, then it was up to her to right all the wrongs. Female revenge movies offer viewers a chance to see what could happen when women finally get the retribution they deserve. Their prevalence shows an increase in popularity and yearning for taking back the narrative.

Female revenge films can be traced back decades. In 1978, “I Spit on Your Grave”  was released. The main character, Jennifer Hills, gets revenge on her rapists after they leave her for dead. At the time, the movie was criticized for its violent depictions of rape and became a cult classic. Perhaps having the victim as the center of attention was the right step to not having any sort of savior complex steal the show. The movie in recent years has been dubbed a misunderstood female-empowering film, because of its focus on the victim and avoidance of savior figures.

Another film that could be put into that similar category would be “Jennifer’s Body” which also received predominantly negative reviews when it first came out but is now seen to be reclaimed as a feminist film. A horror-comedy, the film follows teenager Jennifer, played by Megan Fox, who gets possessed by a demon after being kidnapped by an indie rock band. With the demon within her, she kills people (mainly males) with her best friend trying to stop her. But the movie did not perform to expectations and was criticized for being too sexual and “lackluster.”

But ever since the #MeToo movement, the movie has now been resurrected as an empowering film for women. Alyssa Winn, a junior studying film and television at Boston University, talked about how the marketing of the movie played a huge role in the film’s perception when it was released in 2009.

“They saw Megan Fox, and they wanted to cater to her sex appeal. So they just made all of their marketing targeted towards teenage boys. And the movie wasn’t for teenage boys. So it got terrible reviews,” Winn said.

The character of Jennifer isn’t supposed to be a perfect abuse victim. Not all victims are easy to sympathize with nor are they supposed to be especially kind characters. Her personality aside, Jennifer was a victim of abuse, and her murder rampage, while not justified, was her way of dealing with it.

More recently,  “Promising Young Woman,” the critically-acclaimed black comedy features Carrie Mulligan as a 30-year-old medical school dropout, Cassie.

 Cassie seeks to avenge her best friend’s death after her rapist gets away with his crime. The movie was praised for the way it dealt with the subject matter. Rather than showing raw and realistic rape scenes, the movie depicts this through the audio of the rape scene being played from a phone — shifting the focus more on the journey of how Cassie brings justice to her best friend’s life. 

Cassie is never really shown to be a femme fatale. In fact, she’s dressed fairly modestly throughout the movie, demonstrating that it’s never about what you wear.

An article in the Guardian points out this aspect of the film, calling it one of the most realistic features in the movie.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘hot’ or not, promising or hopeless. All that matters, in these moments, is that you are too out of it to consent. There’s no honey-trap; just a woman in a suit who is ‘asking for it,’ the writer, Emma Brocks, said.

An example of a movie where the female character dresses in a less modest fashion would be in “Double Indemnity”(1944)  where the main character, Phyllis, is introduced half-dressed intentionally since she’s portrayed as a femme fatale. The movie follows Phyllis as she and insurance agent Walter Neff pull off a scheme of murdering Phyllis’ husband so she can live off his accidental death claim.

But female revenge films aren’t simply subject to rape-revenge films. Sometimes they can be about protecting an unborn child or wanting money. Other times, they can simply be about a woman playing games with her husband, and setting him up for her murder after he cheats on her, like “Gone Girl.” When “Gone Girl” was released in 2014, the movie opened to mixed reviews and people weren’t entirely sure if the movie was empowering or misogynistic. 

Amy, the main female character, is a complex woman. On a quest to ruin her husband, her actions confuse viewers, who wonder what her point is. But under the layers, it might be a statement on society’s social constructs on what a woman should be. Her parents portray her as “Amazing Amy” in their series of books as this perfect version of her character. She can’t be herself with her husband who cheats on her. Feeling miserable and mistreated, she takes a questionable route to get back at her husband. But through this twisted revenge, viewers can identify with always being forced into a role by someone else.

Female revenge movies have come a long way from when they started. And they’re much needed. The layered characters and questionable scenes are meant to constantly get you thinking about where things go wrong. Oftentimes, people forget that the point isn’t simply about revenge, it’s about the character’s journey to finally gaining respect and taking the power back. These movies aren’t perfect, but they’re needed as they start more conversations about society’s treatment of women and taking the power back.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.