Promising Young Woman – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 53 minutes, Director – Emerald Fennell

After years of being struck by grief, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) goes out to get revenge on the people who she believes led to her best friend’s suicide.

There’s something unexpectedly tense about a high-pitched string version of Britney Spears’ Toxic, it acts as a final countdown to protagonist Cassie’s (Carey Mulligan) grand act of revenge. We’ve already seen that she’s a force to be reckoned with, grieving and angry she spends her evenings pretending to be drunk, being taken home by different men and boldly confronting them before they non-consensually take advantage of her. Mulligan’s performance is subtle and nuanced, fire hiding behind her eyes, almost visible with each breath she emits. While it seems she doesn’t hurt the would-be-rapists – the true consequences aren’t always shown – it’s perhaps tension for her, and how her actions will spin back onto her, that builds up, a stark contrast from the discomfort just seconds before.

Cassie is a medical school dropout, casually working at an almost empty white-void small-town coffee shop – appearing to do almost minimal work she sometimes seems to be there as a Randal to Dante for Laverne Cox’s Gail. It’s here that she re-meets familiar face Ryan (a wonderfully charming Bo Burnham). As a relationship with him grows, he appears to be an actual “nice guy”, not parading around with the thin façade of one for his own sexual gain, Cassie begins to look into other former collegemates. However, her aims are more for revenge than to properly catch-up. Her best friend Nina committed suicide after being sexually assaulted and raped while at the same school, and she’s out for cleverly-planned justice – much of it coming through in feature debut writer-director Emerald Fennell’s screenplay.

There’s something increasingly sinister about Mulligan’s performance as she encounters each new figure in her grand plan. A number of reveals, sometimes you piece things together just before the film confirms your fears, are genuinely shocking, a gasp-inducing mixture that sometimes leads to gut-punch horror – even if everything isn’t always as it seems. All of this is mixed in with the drama of the situation which is rightfully dealt with in pure seriousness and helps to firmly establish a number of the other themes and ideas of the film, while not being degraded to simply a framing device – this is far more than a standard revenge thriller. Even with all of this Fennell finds room for natural and light humour, more so in the light of Mulligan’s challenging of self-believing ‘nice guys’, their either unwillingness to properly respond or general fear of the totally sober woman in front of them, alongside her entertaining interactions and scenes with Burnham.

For everything that the film conjures up and makes a point of, even as a piece of successfully dark satire, there’s a rather cinematic nature to it all. This may not initially seem like the type of film that requires a big screen experience, however as the story develops there’s plenty that demonstrates highly cinematic storytelling that commands to be viewed on a big screen – while still acting as a personal story. By the time Mulligan gets to deliver her standout monologue, conveying the film’s themes and the drama that everything has been encased in so well, there’s an astounding effect that forces you back in amazement, Mulligan dominating your attention with Fennell’s finely written words.

It’s understandable how this film has been divisive, and in some aspects controversial, particularly in regards to the ending – which for some may raise a slight grin, while others may feel it goes for an incorrect tone – and also the way the film goes about the content of a number of scenes as a whole. Either way, hopefully, this scene remains as outstanding thanks to its simplicity, fine writing and Mulligan’s precise performance creating emotion and a slightly sinister hint. Points which run throughout the film and make for an entertaining piece of storytelling with occasional beats of dark satire amongst the somewhat different revenge thriller course that also takes shape within the carefully dealt with core themes.

Mulligan burns with fiery passion in a performance of emotion and rage that captures a sinister feeling in Emerald Fennell’s finely tuned part revenge thriller, part satire mixture. Through darkness and emotion this is certainly a stand-out debut.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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