Revenge – the deliberate harming of another in response to a grievance – real or imagined.
Though revenge may mirror justice or punishment, it’s usually more punitive and visceral than either harmonious or restorative. As horrible as revenge may be, psychologically, it may be more satisfying since our basic instincts rationalize it as an appropriate response when one feels hurt or wronged. Revenge is a strong feeling, deeply rooted within everyone’s psyche. The majority of us can remain in control of that base instinct and let a proper justice system runs its course in meting out justice. We give way to logic and rationale rather than to succumb to such barbaric emotions. Yet they still remain in our psychological makeup even when justice is served. I believe that is why movies depicting revenge as the major plot point are so popular with movie goers the world over.
While the majority of us give in to humane sensibilities, movies featuring revenge allow us to live vicariously through the characters on screen. We sympathize with the characters as they seek out vengeance, unhindered by the fear of legal persecution, unrelenting in their quest to rectify the wrongs that have been done to them. Admittedly, I am a fan of these types of films. While my social and professional positions will not allow me to give in to such a violent mindset (I am a father of three as well as a ten year member of the LAPD in a civilian role), my personal belief is that punishment is a far more fitting response than justice. It should be no surprise then that movies about revenge are amongst my favorites. Yes, I live vicariously through the character seeking out to hurt those who hurt them, but they also portray what my personal belief of justice should be. (I never said it was a respectable belief, just my belief.) What follows next is a small list of my favorite revenge movies I have seen throughout the years. Before that though, a few honorable mentions: Cape Fear (1991), Carrie, The Chaser, The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), Death Wish, Faster, Gangs of New York, Gladiator, Man on Fire, Once Upon A Time in the West.
(Warning: Several spoilers follow in the description of the films listed.)
On Halloween eve, Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancé, Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are brutally beaten, stabbed, shot, and killed the night before their wedding. One year later, through mystical forces, Eric is brought back to life and is given supernatural abilities to gain a measure of revenge on the gang of men who killed him and Shelly the previous year. With the help of Sarah, a young friend of the couple, and Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), the officer who initially responded to the call, Eric finds and brutally takes down each of the gang members while going through much of Detroit’s criminal underground to do so. Ultimately, Eric must confront the main boss of the gang (Michael Wincott) as he holds young Sarah hostage as well as the conduit for Eric’s power. In the end, the memory of Shelly’s torturous last moments and her undying love help Eric find the revenge and peace he sought since returning from the grave. (Note: Avoid watching any other Crow movies, they water down and simplify what the original movie and comic are about.)
Dead Man’s Shoes
Richard (Paddy Considine) has just returned home after serving time in the British army. He converses with his mentally challenged younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) about some of the things some local hoodlums have put him through since his departure. Angered by what he has learned, Richard sets out and searches for the men responsible for his brother’s mistreatment, abuse and torture. After initially confronting the men and showing them that he is not afraid of them or their threats, he begins his vicious and brutal acts on them one by one. Even when the men enlist some help against Richard, he is unstoppable in his quest as we learn that through everything the men put his brother through, Anthony has killed himself, revealing a bit of Richard’s own guilt and frame of mind from the start of the film. In a final act of fury, he confronts the final member of the gang and readies himself, and the viewer, for an ending no one would ever expect.
14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) and 32 year-old Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) are having a flirtatious discussion over the internet in which they decide to meet in person. After meeting at a coffee shop where they continue flirting with one another, Hayley suggest they return back to Jeff’s home, to which he agrees. She makes them both a couple of screwdrivers and when she is apparently drunk, convinces Jeff to take some provocative pictures of her dancing around and posing sexually. Suddenly, Jeff passes out. When he awakens, he finds himself tied to a computer chair with Hayley disclosing that she knows he is a pedophile and begins question him about the whereabouts of a missing local girl named Donna Mauer. Searching through his home, Hayley finds evidence that Jeff is indeed a part of Donna’s disappearance, she continues with her plan and threatens to ruin his life by exposing his secrets. She psychologically tortures him again and again until she is satisfied with what she needed to hear. Disturbingly poetic, Hard Candy remains convincingly realistic in both the way the revenge is enacted and the flirtatious acts that began the movie.
Presented in reverse chronological order, Irreversible is the tale of two men, Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) as they try to find the man (Jo Prestia) who raped and beat their mutual lover Alex (Monica Bellucci), leaving her in a coma. As the drug addled duo seek out the man through several means, including threatening local prostitutes to give up the name of who they felt could do such a thing. Walking into a nearby homosexual S&M club called “The Rectum” the pair seek out the man in the back. A brutal and intense scene follows as several of the pieces of the film dawn on the viewer. Since the viewer knows the end of the film before the beginning, as the pieces fall into place once everything is said and done, the film’s ultimate picture will leave you unnerved.
I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
Not many people appreciated the actions of the main character in this film, much as they didn’t with the 1978 original, but one can understand what drove Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) to act out as she did. As a writer looking for seclusion as she begins scripting her next novel, she rented a small cabin in the woods to find the solitude she was looking for. Unfortunately, she attracts the attention of a group of men who have their own ideas on what to do with her. As they confront her in her cabin one night, they abuse and harass her until she escapes the cabin and finds the sheriff (Tracey Walter). Unfortunately, the sheriff is in league with the men and they brutally rape her again and again until she has a chance and throws herself off of a bridge into the river below. What follows next is a series of killings of each of the men in ways that they harmed her during the rapes. Unapologetic and unnerving (even to someone like me), I Spit on Your Grave improves upon the original while telling a horrifying tale of a situation no one should ever go through.
Kill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2)
Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride (Uma Thurman), goes on a ‘roaring rampage of revenge’ as she looks for Bill (David Carradine) and his gang who not only killed everyone at her wedding, but also killed her unborn child while leaving her in a coma for several years. But killing Bill isn’t as easy as it sounds as he is a well established crime lord whose own lieutenants have vast resources at their disposal. Still, the Bride cuts down everyone in her way. Leaving a bloody trial everywhere she goes around the world in her search for Bill and his cohorts, including Japan and Mexico, she tracks down Bill to a villa hotel and prepares to meet out her final act of revenge. But what she finds there waiting for her is even more than she was prepared for. Despite all of her training, all of her ruthless skills, and all of her fury, this one secret may be just be her undoing. (Note: Quentin Tarantino has said himself that Vol. 3 is currently being planned.)
All right, I think we’ve disturbed you enough for this go around! Be sure to check back with us next week for Part 2 to wrap up the greatest revenge movies!