2020 was rife with new, relevant filmmaking. More than ever, diversity was being pushed as more and more important, unaddressed issues were being tackled. Although even the major releases of the year we’re having to be dropped onto streaming platforms as opposed to having traditional cinematic releases, it was shown that even without a cinematic release a film can still generate an impressive buzz amongst audiences.
Released late in the year, there was no better example of this than Promising Young Woman. A biting social commentary on modern rape culture, the film adapts its title from a common phrase used by the media, “Promising Young Man”, often used to help present male rapists as victims when accused of the crime. Promising Young Woman tells the story of ex-medical student Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) intent on getting revenge years after the horrific rape and subsequent suicide of her best friend. Pretending to be drunk late at night, each week, she threatens the array of toxic men who try to take advantage of her, in a charismatic display of bloodthirsty malevolence.
What makes Promising Young Woman so spectacular is the seamless blend of its inherently distressing themes with the most razor-sharp black comedy. This is done in a way that doesn’t at all undermine the seriousness of the subject matter but brings to light the thought-provoking ideas at the core of the film. This is a revenge thriller through and through, yet it possesses a depth reached very rarely in the genre.
Amazingly, this is the debut feature film of Emerald Fennel, who wrote, directed and produced it under actress Margot Robbie’s new production company Luckychap entertainment. Fennel’s previous work has included performances in The Crown, Call the Midwife, and the third series of Killing Eve, which earned her two Emmy award nominations. She also made a short film, Careful How You Go, in 2018, which is yet to be released publicly after its controversial premiere at the Sundance film festival.
The film has seen a lot of awards attention, most notably at the Oscars, where it has received 6 nominations including best actress, best picture and best director. This is the first year that two female directors have been nominated for best director. While this is progress, it’s disappointing that it’s happening only now after 91 years of the award ceremony. Only 5 women have been nominated for the award in previous years, and only one has won.
Promising Young Woman is just as heartfelt as it is thrilling, something that so many revenge films try to accomplish, but with so little success. This is what places it firmly alongside classics such as Harakiri, and Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy. This is also why I believe it will stand the test of time, and go down as one of the great revenge thrillers of the 21st century.
Above all, Promising Young Woman is entertaining and has something to say. It’s shocking, over the top, powerful and warm-hearted. I loved every second of it, and am rating it a solid four and a half stars.