'Revenge' is a Dish that Leaves Cold

Revenge (Hevn)
(Norway/Canada, 100 min.)
Dir. Kjersti Steinsbø; Writ. Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Kjersti Steinsbø
Starring: Siren Jørgensen, Frode Winther, Maria Bock, Anders Baasmo Christensen, Tron Espen Seim, Helene Bergsholm, Kine Botheim Jentoft
Maria Bock and Siren Jørgensen star in Revenege.
Courtesy of Alcina Pictures

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then one can hardly find a better match for icy chefs than a Canuck and a Nordic. Revenge, a rare co-production between Canada and Norway, chills with steely tenacity as it makes an idyllic Norwegian getaway a haven for past crimes. Siren Jørgensen stars as in a eerily detached performance as Rebekka, a woman who travels to the fjords of Norway under the false pretense that she is a travel writing aiming to profile a quaint little hotel in a picturesque, but sleepy, little town. In the vein of recent cold-blooded Scandinavian thrillers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, Revenge is a tale of men who hate women as this thriller builds a complicated rape culture parable that nips, but leaves cold.

Overall, the Norse vistas in this thriller are impressive as serene landscapes offer postcard perfect views of the fjords. Revenge probably does for Norway what some Canuck endeavors do for northern Canada by letting the scenery star. Moody and atmospheric cinematography keeps the film dark and brooding, too, and there’s a lot to admire and find seductive until the film unravels in its off-kilter finale when Rebekka enacts her deed.

It comes as no surprise that Rebekka arrives under false pretenses when she presents herself to the hotelier, Morten (Frode Winther) and his wife, Nina (Maria Bock, a beacon in this dark film). Rebekka’s news that her magazine wants to feature their getaway seems like a lark from the get-go, as she arrives in the offseason when nobody’s there. Maybe Norwegian fjord-side towns need some good PR in the aftermath of The Wave. Then Rebekka unpacks her bags and Revenge reveals that she’s carrying little else than a Mrs. Bates knife, and something seems awry with this cold, clipped journalist.

Director Kjersti Steinsbø builds ample tension slowly and methodically as Rebekka unfurls her plan. She might not be a journalist, but she has an awfully big scoop on Morten. His secret is about as scandalous as things can get in a town as small as this one and everyone’s silence, everyone’s complacency, is downright eerie.

Rebekka’s actions aren’t any better, though, as she manipulates Morten and Nina and draws the townspeople into her web. Using not one but two girls as pawns in her plan for getting an eye for an eye, she’s a hard character with whom one may find sympathy. Revenge evens calls her out on her failure to be a responsible adult, but the film then muddles her culpability by glorifying her vendetta. This element undoes the film’s effort to be an all-out feminist revenge flick, since Rebekka is ultimately just as sick a predator as Morten is—and the endorsement/celebration of Revenge as a feminist film, like a backslide into qualifying acts of rapacious violence when it offers a convenient upvote, seems extremely dangerous and reckless. If the tables turned, Revenge would be rightly condemned. It’s never okay to enact violence upon someone else and the film's uncritical rendering of Rebekka's deed is wildly problematic.

While Revenge smartly outlines Morten’s ignorance of his crimes and offers other characters who refuse to stand by him, it fails to make Rebekka grasp the collateral damage of her vendetta. She plays the sexual predator and puts two girls in the victim role, destroying lives while seeking retribution for another girl who was a tragic victim. The realism of the film makes it a great simmering thriller for 88 or so minutes of its 100-minute running time, but because Revenge tautly bides its time by putting the viewer in the mindset of the killer, it also asks the viewer to identify with Rebekka’s repugnant bloodlust and then get off on it. The finale of Revenge is very difficult to endorse as Rebekka all but licks the ejaculatory smear of blood from her face.

Revenge opens in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, May 27.