Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

A strangely sexless revenge fantasy. On the way out, I tried to run back all the scenes of actual intercourse, and counted one — the implied digital penetration in the first scene. Cassie is not a rape victim, but the best friend of a rape victim. A crucial piece of evidence that changes not just the trajectory of the plot but the audience’s understanding of what occurred is never actually seen. Cassie has given up any sort of normal existence to become a spirit of revenge... but she’s ready to take a chance on a guy one last time.

I was fascinated by this, because a young female director had played in a genre built by leering men — “I Spit On Your Grave,” “Ms. 45,” etc — and given us nothing to leer at. Mulligan is shot in a way that conveys beauty but doesn’t ever titillate. (At any moment that a woman reveals her body, men are there to hoot.) The worst tortures we are told to imagine are inflicted on a woman and a child. (We are reassured that the torture never happened.) Totally understand why this moved people, but it felt mannered to me.

Yet I had a good time. This is lively, colorful, funny, and for a good while unpredictable. I walked out less enthusiastic than I’d been halfway through, but I liked it.