Promising Young Woman - an uneasy but important film

A young woman stumbles around a bar drunk. She is being checked out by three guys who laugh at her drunken state, and comment on how they could easily pick her up.

One of the men offers to help her home. Along the way, he offers her a drink in his apartment, and although too drunk to consent, puts moves on her. In a flash she snaps out of it and asks him what he is doing. As she walks out of his apartment she takes out a pink notebook and adds his name to a list.

Cassie, does this every weekend. She is out for revenge on the men of her town. As the film goes on the reason becomes clear.

There is a sub genre called rape revenge films. They used to be grimey horror movies like I Spit on Your Grave or Last House On The Left but with the #MeToo movement, and more opportunities for female directors, there has been a renewed interest in the genre, resulting in much more interesting films such as Revenge or Nightingale.

Promising Young Woman is not quite on that level, but is a remarkably assured debut feature from Killing Eve show runner Emerald Fennell. Having just won two Baftas, and with a good shout of a few Oscars (It has five nominations ) it has been a bit of a surprise hit.

The film looks like a Britney Spears music video, awash with pastels and pinks. Cassie dresses like a teeny bopper, I was unsure though if it was to add to her honey pot tactics, the aesthetics of the director, or perhaps a way to reclaim ownership of a certain type of femininity.

Cassie is terrifically played by Carey Mulligan in arguably a career best performance. Living at home with her parents, she is a prisoner of the trauma she experienced at the hands of the men in her town, and she is dedicating her life to ruining theirs.

I like the lack of satisfaction she takes in her revenge, at no point does she cackle or even smile. This is not Foxy Brown or The Bride from Kill Bill. Her revenge, although mostly aimed at men, also takes aim at the women who enable and allow men to continue to torment, who “wouldn’t want to ruin a career for one mistake”. Some of that aspect made me very uneasy, but it is important.

However the final moments undercut something from the story and took away from one particularly grim and brave call by the director. Otherwise, this is a well made and acted film. It is an uncomfortable film that is opening up interesting conversations which is always a good thing. It is available on Sky Movies from April 16.


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