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Getting Naked

Having Janssens be the only naked one wasn’t just Fargeat’s way of subverting a cliché by putting a man in the unique position of being nude and vulnerable in front of a female aggressor; it was a full “fuck you” to the policing of women’s bodies onscreen as well as off. When we meet Jen, she’s a picture of mass-appeal temptation, with straw-blonde hair and puckered red lips wrapped around a lollipop. She wears oversize, winged-eye sunglasses and a bright-pink top that matches her star-shaped earrings. She unselfconsciously flits around the luxurious, isolated villa, and even after Richard’s hunting buddies show up, she continues to lounge in bikinis and just, well, live her life as a hot girl.

Jen dances with the men, flirts, and behaves like any woman would who’s feeling herself and thinks she is protected — in this case, by her big strong boyfriend. Then she’s raped and discarded, scantily clad in the barren desert. Fargeat made the crucial choice to keep her heroine exposed all the way through her vengeance quest. The director wanted to make sure Jen’s transformation into a survivor was not commensurate with a new modesty. From beginning to end, Lutz remains mostly unclothed, hunting down her assailants in a tactically fashioned sports bra and hot pants. For her final confrontation with Richard, Jen is fully embodied and confident in her exposed skin.

“I really didn’t want to have a character that would be half-naked at the beginning, who would transform into a warrior, who would dress up and be covered from head to toes, and would become strong because now she’s dressed, she has clothes on,” says Fargeat, who doesn’t consider her movie to be a rape-revenge film in the classic sense — and who has limited her exposure to the subgenre to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. “I loved the contrary the idea that she should be as seductive and provocative and as sexy as she wants. For me at the beginning, the problem is not the way she’s acting, but the male gaze on her and what they think they are allowed to do, because she is presenting herself a certain way. So it was very important for me that the character stays close to her body, which is her identity. And she decides to keep using it in a very naked way, too, having nothing and just her body as a tool to have a new strength.”

It was just as important to Fargeat’s intentions that Janssens be completely naked in Revenge’s final scene, which really serves as the movie’s thesis statement. The director explained that even though it was clearly laid out in the script, Janssens didn’t actually think she’d go through with the nudity. “We’re really gonna do it naked?” he asked. “Of course!” Fargeat told him. “It’s in the script!’” She explained to him that she needed Richard without “his outfits of power, like the clothes, the car, the gun, the villa — all what makes him the very powerful alpha man” so he was forced to be “face-to-face with himself, with the way he acts and who he is.” In return, Janssens went full History of Violence for her.

When In Doubt: Add More Blood

By the end of Revenge’s final scene, the posh vacation home looks like a slaughterhouse, with white rugs and couches shot to shreds and soaked in blood. It was hell on a logistics level, since they had to make a shot list that allowed for the build up of blood over time — especially since Fargeat would push her effects team to their limit with the sheer volume of blood on set. “I didn’t know I wanted so much!” says the director. “In fact, the SFX guys were freaking out to run out of blood, so they had stuff coming from Paris to be able to make more on the spot. They were making blood all the time, and so scared because there needed always more, more! It was never ending! I think the sentence you could use the most during those four days of shooting was ‘More blood! More blood!’”

When they finally started filming, the effects team tried gingerly applying the prop goo to walls, but after demanding more enough times Fargeat eventually just streamlined the process by pouring it all over the place. “We didn’t have time, so basically I took his bucket of blood and I started to splash it on the wall and the actor, putting blood on him and blood on the floor until you could feel something was really happening.” Then, of course, Fargeat, the actors, and a pared-down crew had to negotiate the floor being a crimson Slip ‘N Slide (no one was hurt!), with Lutz and Janssens trying not to get glued to each other, themselves, or the set. “For the actors, it turned out to be a nightmare, because they stuck to their own bodies and it was hurting like hell. Between shots they had to stand and it was very tiring and very uncomfortable and they were all sticky and they had all these prosthetics.”

Trust Your Instincts

Fargeat describes pulling off the finale scene as cracking a Rubik’s cube. She knew the necessary moves and in what order to make them, but since it mostly looked like a big old mess to everyone outside her head (as she shouted stage directions like “Run. Run more! On the left, on the right, more angry. No, reverse!”), it was a leap of faith for everyone else on set to get behind her.

“I think totally most of the crew had no idea of what we were filming, and of course many of them thought we were doing shit and this [made] no sense,” says Fargeat, whose faith in her own vision was strong enough to martial the support of her team. “With genre films, you’re always on the edge. It can be very ridiculous if you cross a line, or very good, and you never know on which side of the line you are. So you have to trust the director, even if at some points we were shooting fast and you don’t have time to fully understand how it’s gonna be. But I think they were really proud and surprised the first time they saw the movie, to discover what had been done. And that is the best reward for their hard work.”

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