The poster for the Norwegian-Canadian co-production Revenge (aka Hevn) might leave you convinced that this is a straight-forward vengeance flick, in which a knife-wielding assassin exacts cold, serial revenge on those who have wronged them. In fact, Revenge is an intense, slow-burn psychological drama which is light on blood-letting but full of taut, unsettling and often disturbing revelations which tear apart the lives of a group of friends and relations living in a small, tightly-knit rural community.
At a beautiful mountainside hotel, journalist Andrea arrives just as the season ends, ostensibly to write a feature about the resort. She appears to be exhausted, emotionally off-balance and reports having lost all of her belongings in a series of travel mishaps. Though surprised by her unannounced arrival, her hosts Morten and Nina are pleased to offer her hospitality - especially as Andrea hints that a lengthier stay will likely result in more extensive coverage in Travel-Best. However, it soon becomes clear that Andrea (aka Rebekka) has other motivations for her visit, and - even more alarmingly - that she is haunted by the silent spectre of someone that was close to her.
Based on thriller writer Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s novel Dukken i taket (The Doll in the Ceiling), Kjersti Steinsbø’s adaptation wisely spends time building tension and apprehension, and the rising sense of something awful and imminent. Without revealing any more of the plot, Rebekka begins to put her plan for retribution into effect, homing in on her intended target.
The simplest revenge movies adopt a black-and-white morality, in which the actions of the justice-seeking protagonist are depicted as entirely justified. What helps to distinguish the storyline of Revenge is that Rebekka uses appallingly manipulative, exploitative methods in pursuit of her goal; acting with no regard for the consequences on others. Director Steinsbø strikes a very effective balance, inviting the audience’s sympathy with Rebekka’s frustration and distress without cheerleading for the toxic choices she makes.
Amidst a strong cast, Siren Jørgensen shines as the aggrieved and emotionally-fractured Rebekka. In the film’s early scenes, she captures the script’s sense of ambiguity about what her character might be capable of brilliantly. Later, as she warms to her task and gains in confidence, she depicts Rebekka’s compulsive pursuit of her destructive goal in such a way as to challenge any simplistic judgement about whether her actions are defensible. As Rebekka spirals into taking ever more irresponsible actions, it is bartender ‘Bimbo’ (a winning turn by Anders Baasmo Christiansen) who tries to provide a corrective moral compass.
The film’s exterior locations (mountain ranges, vast lakes and lush forests) are absolutely stunning, and expertly rendered on screen; with Steinsbø showing a good sense of how to mix the intimate and the epic to best effect. This majestic, untamed terrain becomes a compelling character in its own right.
The violence in Revenge is rarely graphic in nature, but the cruelty in the behaviour of different characters is frequently shocking. The sexual components of the story, which feature as part of a repellent act of entrapment, are also intentionally uncomfortable. But what makes all of these dark materials blend so effectively is the unpredictability of the main plot, and the conflicted ethics of this Nordic tale of crime and punishment. By the time the film’s closing act arrives, it’s clear that events are about to detonate; but it’s far from obvious who will get caught up in the explosion.
REVENGE (HEVN) / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: KJERSTI STEINSBØ / SCREENPLAY: KJERSTI STEINSBØ / STARRING: SIREN JØRGENSEN, FRODE WINTHER, MARIA BOCK, ANDERS BAASMO CHRISTIANSEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (US), TBC (UK)