Do Revenge: A Snappy but Uneven High School Comedy

Strangers on a Train (1951) in high school is a really fun premise. The stakes are lowered, of course, relatively speaking. This is not a film about perfect murders. Do Revenge is about getting your own back on the teens that have wronged you, killing somebody’s social status and reputation. Alongside this, Do Revenge exists very knowingly in the preexisting teen movie space, with a pleasing genre literacy that will speak directly to its fans. Knowing winks to The Craft (1996), Clueless (1995), Mean Girls (2004), Heathers (1989) and more are either explicit or implicit, used well as opposed to the film collapsing into meta-malaise. This all being said, in spite of its good ideas, Do Revenge is an inelegant film, one that wants its plot to go to specific and interesting places but is not so good at the parts in between. Ultimately, a film with a poor command of how to position its audience.

So much does work, our effective setup has Camila Mendes’ Drea humiliated and damaged by Austin Abrams’ Max. The purposeful leaking of nude footage of Drea, and Max’s denial that it was him, casts Drea as a social pariah, especially after she hits Max in public (knowing he is to blame and that he acted out of spite). Drea falls out of the social limelight and finds herself befriending a new kid, Maya Hawke’s Eleanor. Eleanor has also been wronged and together they work out a plan to get revenge on each other’s enemies. That’s the Strangers on a Train bit (a character is seen reading the Highsmith novel towards the beginning), the rest is very divergent (with some returns to pastiches of classic plot points) but it is a smart setup. It also sets up an entertaining dynamic in which Mendes and Hawke are excellent.

However, the film wants to be a cutting revenge tale of relative amorality, in the key of Heathers, while also having a strong emotional core and a degree of relevance. It gets a lot of the heightened stuff right, but these hyperbolised elements sit slightly uncomfortably in a wider movie never quite sure of where to place the audience’s allegiance. The overall thing is just a touch messy, moving towards satisfying plot points but not moving towards them satisfyingly. There are a lot of extra variables taken on and they are balanced poorly, leaving certain aspects frustratingly underdeveloped. Talia Ryder plays Max’s sister, Gabbi, who is a promising and well performed character, but the film’s use of her leaves her tokenistic and hazily developed (falling foul of some unfortunate tropes). A lot of this links into a bloated runtime, an almost two-hour film that should be ninety to a hundred minutes to keep it as tight and cutting as it needs to be. The satisfactions of revenge and machinations are spread thinly and the narrative drive is lost.

Though, the film certainly wears its budget well. The colour palette is especially strong throughout, and there are noticeable and effective aesthetic decisions that make it a striking movie, a stylish one also. Some of the compositions are great and it is a slickly put together film, with a well curated soundtrack of pop-hits underscoring the high school drama. The dialogue is also snappy, and can be rather funny. Though, there is an artifice to it, an overt attempt to be (perhaps) meme-able and clip-able in a way that frequently feels hollow. Stilted turns of phrase interrupt the realities of characters as the film has the feel of being written to be quoted. Character turns are often under supported, perhaps another result of the film not putting enough work into the right aspects and spreading itself far too thinly.

Still, the overall impression is a pretty striking one. This is a confident and well performed film with some really effective moments. As a whole, it hangs together awkwardly and stumbles in key places. At other points, though, it walks tall and really entertains. It perhaps never finds the film it should be. Its high school setting is perhaps not the best choice; a college context may work better, and the lack of any adult interaction reminds you how well a film like Clueless manages to mix those two contexts (the teen world and the adult world) while still capturing how distinct they are. Do Revenge lacks these deft touches and lacks an elegance throughout that would match its snappy presentation. It can still be a blast, though, and is still a journey worth taking.


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