Promising Young Woman: An Unflinchingly Bold Revenge Thriller

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

I have waited a year since first learning about this movie.  When the first previews were leaked, I just knew that I had to see it.  Granted, I didn’t know what to expect as my imaginings drifted amidst a myriad of the revenge genre b-movies I had previously watched.

Promising Young Woman is not your mother’s average revenge movie ala: I Spit On Your I Spit On Your Grave 2010 movie posterGrave (Neither the original nor the visceral 2010 remake-one of my most liked revenge movies).  In fact, Carey Mulligan stars in a story, that addresses rape culture with an unflinchingly pessimistic tone.

After all, hasn’t Hollywood made a concerted effort to give stories about sexual harassment, (sexual assault, rape) the  space and the considerate handling they deserve? I mean for all the years that Hollywood “Big-Wigs” have sexually assaulted women, girls,  boys, and even other men with impunity, hasn’t Hollywood ensured that these victimized individuals received justice?

No? Figures.

So, while Promising Young Woman may not necessarily have been inspired by either the #MeToo or Time’s Up movements, it is, perhaps, a story that might not have been told before these movements.

Yeah, because Hollywood always wants to do the right thing, especially when numerous actors cry sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Promising Young Woman is from writer-director Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve.) and is her feature-length directorial debut, taking on institutions that protect rapists and the fallacy of the “nice guy” with an unwavering eye (Making me so glad that I began my academic pursuits at all women’s colleges).

In Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie Thomas and she is masterful in giving viewers an Oscar-worthy Carey Mulliganperformance of a 29-year-old-turning-30 medical school drop-out who works in a coffee shop with her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) by day.

However, once evening falls Cassie goes out to local clubs and pretends to be so drunk she can’t walk. Without fail, a “nice guy” offers to see her home safely, only to take her back to his place to have sex with her despite her outward inebriated state, once there she drops the act and this is where I expected things to get bloody (From my previous experiences at watching these types of movies.) Trust me when I say…It’s NOT only the men that Cassie seeks revenge against.

I fully expected our protagonist to go all Psycho and shit. However, she doesn’t go all Psycho and shit and in fact, engages the now scared witless guy in conversation to deconstruct the rationale of his behavior.  In fact, it is in Act IV when Cassie relinquishes her self-control that…(Well, you’ll just have to find that out for yourself, [but…)

As the movie progresses, Cassie’s reasons for her double life become clear as to why she dropped out of med school. Then one day an old classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham) comes into the coffee shop and asks Cassie out.

This is brilliant because not for one moment had I connected the dots, see in that sense I am kinda slow.  I tend to watch movies as just that: A guy asking a woman on a date and thinking nothing more of it until he inevitably does something that disappoints the woman.

I thought nothing of the glaring fact that this woman repeatedly either gives this one particular guy chance after chance or pursues him when he busts her with another man (Who lives in his parent’s basemen). Scene from Promising Young Woman So why is Cassie trying so hard to establish a relationship with one particular guy?

Well, it could be that she’s finally being presented with the opportunity to get revenge on the people who derailed her life, that’s why.

I find one minor flaw in Promising Young Woman and that is in the context of Mental Health, there is littleexamination of loss and mourning, the extent to which surviving sexual assault often leads to self-harm and other self destructive behaviors on many levels especially when it affects caregivers.

Passing notice was given to this in the scene when Cassie Thomas visits the childhood home of her best friend Nina Fisher and is kindly told by Nina’s mother [Played by Molly Shannon] that it’s time to ‘Let It Go’.

Subsumed with guilt Cassie is hurting emotionally and this is where the movie begins to slowly take a decidedly darker turn, where you think things can’t possibly get any worse, then things get even worse.  It’s similar to a perverse Ground Hog Day type of scenario, in which Cassie knowingly willingly puts herself in peril, or does she have a death wish?

Fennell’s script for Promising Young Woman is sharp, offering an original entry in the genre of revenge thrillers. For much of the film, as far as I am concerned Cassie isn’t struggling to move past the trauma that resulted in her dropping out of med school but instead engaging in behaviors that put her at risk for sexual assault.

Therefore while, on a technical storytelling level, the ending of the film works – the ending of Promising Young Woman veers far away from the escapist revenge fantasy I am used to [As found in the Over The Top Remake of I Spit On Your Grave 2010] leaving viewers with a bleak catharsis. It’s not an ending that will make audiences walk away feeling better about the world, Fennell makes sure it is the only ending that makes sense for Cassie, even if it’s pessimistic in nature (And NO, in the end, Cassie is NOT raped), but the ending ensures nonetheless that Promising Young Woman will leave viewers feeling conflicted over Cassie’s journey and what they expect from stories about sexual assault and rape by subverting audience expectations and forcing the viewer to confront the harsh reality that NO man is an exception to rape culture.

Promising Young Woman is uncompromising in showing viewers just how predatory the world’s seemingly “Nice guys” can be.

Trigger Warning

Because of the violence and themes of sexual assault, real-life survivors will want to be aware of their triggers and be cautious with Promising Young Woman. The movie is very entertaining, and those interested in the premise will do well with checking it out, but it may bring up old hurt or trauma for some folks, particularly the lead-up to the ending. As such, while Promising Young Woman is an excellent film and, in some ways, a cathartic revenge story, it’s not necessarily a must-watch for everyone. (It is, however, a must-watch for anyone who still believes in “nice guys” or exceptions to rape culture.) That said, those who give Promising Young Woman a chance will be treated to an astonishingly bold, original, and breathtakingly solid revenge story that may inspire women to be fiercer in the face of the men and institutions that seek to hold them back.

I gave a mild spoiler about act lV, because of the online peanut gallery thinks they know all about a movie based solely on a 2.45-minute preview or an article written by a \blogger (Me).
In Conclusion, I most definitely will rewatch Promising Young Woman.  I rate the movie “A”

Right now though I have to go and turn off the Bloviating Orange Haired Orangutan ending his presidency oh a Grand Delusion.