A Promising Young Woman: The Female Revenge Genre


The female revenge genre has had a revamp over recent years. Strong representations of femininity in cinema have shifted from the ‘final girl’ trope of 80s horror to the contemporary female-fronted dramas and thrillers that offer numerous award nominations for those in the lead roles on an increasingly international scale. The upcoming black comedy thriller Promising Young Woman aims to reignite the genre on an exciting scale, bringing back the much-loved patriarchal exploration with a modern-day spin.

When slasher films were on the rise, it was the female protagonist who drew the audience in, maintaining their interest through their charisma and impact. Characters such as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween (1978), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) in the Scream (1996-) franchise and Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) became embodiments of the ‘strong woman’. The final girl became an expected convention in horror films and, although these were sometimes less feminist and more stereotypical, the tenacious female protagonist grew into an important part of the cinema landscape that follows through to this day.

Although it became clear that films took a more feminist approach in the early 2000s, there grew an ever clearer lack of female directors working on female-fronted films. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino used the popularity of ‘leading ladies’ to form the inspiration for his, now infamous, film series which comprises two films – Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). With Uma Thurman at the reigns, the film draws upon the female revenge genre that we see today, using violence to create a powerful woman whose vengeful rampage earned her multiple nominations for the role.

In more recent years, the revenge genre has crossed even more boundaries, inspiring films on a global scale such as Paul Verhoeven’s French thriller Elle (2016). The film explores the impact of sexual harassment upon the life of its victim and received a mass of critical acclaim from the moment it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Films such as Elle are integral in the development of the genre, exploring real-life social issues through a platform that is loved and enjoyed by many. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) was another critical success, earning lead actress Frances McDormand an Academy Award for Best Actress at the 90th awards ceremony.

The female revenge genre opens up the potential for more female characters and therefore more female actors and directors gaining critical acclaim for their work. Whilst female directors are still being snubbed on an industry-wide scale, there is hope for the increasing number of female filmmakers through the reignition of the genre in recent years; think back to the success of films such as Jennifer’s Body (2009) written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama!

Emerald Fennell’s upcoming film debut Promising Young Woman sets up to be a strong start for female-fronted films being released in 2021. The film, which is set to be released just next month in the UK, follows the story of Cassie (Carey Mulligan) whose life is changed suddenly, leading to an inspired moment of vengeance which follows her throughout the film’s narrative. Mulligan is set to be a brilliant lead, with critics already praising the film’s portrayal of female confidence and independence.

The fact that the film is actually directed by a female filmmaker makes this an even more exciting upcoming release that promises to liken itself to the revenge genre in a unique and impactful way. With its release soon approaching, Promising Young Woman is a film to keep your eye out for if you’re missing some female empowerment!

Promising Young Woman(15) is set to be released on 12th February 2021. Check out the official trailer below.


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film masters student and ex-records/live exec 20/21

1 Comment

  1. Laura Carpenter on

    From the trailers I was instantly enthralled, believing this film to be a female revenge film with action and murder, like The Audition (1999), Gone Girl, or A Mother’s Revenge (2022). The soundtrack of Britney Spear’s ‘Toxic’ played on a violin was haunting and the visuals of the hyper-feminine outfits Cassie wore for her revenge scenes were captivating in their bright colours and eye-catching silhouette.

    The film did not turn out as I expected; this film is both heartbreaking and incredibly powerful.

    Warning: slight spoilers below.

    Much like the trailer, the film is very bright and colourful – both in Cassie’s outfits and within the set design itself. The soundtrack is also incredible, using hits such as ‘Angel of the Morning’ and ‘Toxic’.

    The casting was masterfully chosen to create the most impact of the twists and turns of characters. Much like casting Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale in Knives Out, the casting of many of the characters uses the audiences’ pre-existing notions of the actor to reflect on the character. The first ‘good guy’ we meet is McLovin himself (Christopher Charles Mintz-Plasse who played McLovin in SuperBad as well as Chris D’Amico from Kickass). Typically he presents himself as a petulant but well-meaning guy. In this film, he is as well-meaning as any man who takes advantage of women but frames themselves as the good guy. The main love interest played by Bo Burnham was particularly stellar casting as, once again, the audience identifies Bo Burnham with his celebrity portrayals as a progressive man. The audience are taken on a beautiful journey as he and Cassie fall in love only for it all to come crumbling apart once certain truths are revealed. Even the casting of actors Alfred Molina and Carey Mulligan lend this same element to their characters.

    The film is also tragic due to its realism. Many people do not behave in the stereotypical black-and-white/good-and-evil fashion. Instead, this film highlights that every villain is the hero of their own story and what may be a trauma for one person is another Friday night for another so the attitudes of the ‘good guy’ are probably very familiar to many members of the audience, especially those who are female. It also highlights the nuances of different good guys, that even the handsome guys can do the most horrendous things and instead of being sorry, see their actions as not their fault or excuse themselves in some other way.

    This film also highlights that men aren’t the ones hurting victims of assault and to an extent, any victims of crimes especially those committed against women. As declared by the character of Madison; “Look, when you get that drunk, things happen. Don’t get blackout drunk all the time, and then expect people to be on your side when you have sex with someone you don’t want to.” This same rhetoric is repeated by a woman with power, in the form of the Dean; “”None of us want to admit when we’ve made ourselves vulnerable, when we made a bad choice. And those choices, those mistakes, can be so damaging, and really regrettable… I mean, what would you have me do? Ruin a young man’s life every time we get an accusation like this?” The film tells us over and over that the man’s reputation is more important than that of the woman’s, which is unfortunately very true to life for many victims.

    The ending is the most bitter part of the film. I will not spoil it but I will say it made me feel incredibly conflicted. On the one hand, I appreciated the realism which allowed the story to end on a bittersweet satisfying note that felt true to every character’s story, particularly the mental spiral Cassie was going down for her revenge. On the other, the film’s ending felt like a rude awakening that many victims don’t get their justice until something worse happens to someone else so I would advise anyone who has been a survivor of assault to approach this film with caution as the film is triggering throughout however the ending is not the revenge some may wish to see.

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