Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes star in an entertaining though ultimately undercooked high school riff on Strangers on a Train
Arriving just a week after the similarly-minded Bodies Bodies Bodies, Do Revenge is the latest attempt to capture the essence of Gen Z on film. An entertaining if not rather hollow portrait of an interconnected generation, it's a film that jumps at the opportunity to hold a mirror up to Gen Z only for the reflection to come back rather distorted.
Writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson endeavours to provide a melding of a black comedy and revenge drama in this intriguing plot inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, itself based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. Hitchcock’s film noir sees two strangers exchanging revenge murders so neither gets caught. The idea is transplanted here to the unassuming bond between high school “It Girl” Drea (Camila Mendes) and mousy transfer student Eleanor (Maya Hawke).
Striking a deal, the pair trade enemies to get back at those who have wronged them. For Drea, it’s her ex-boyfriend (Austin Abrams) who seemingly released her sex tape to the entire school. For Eleanor, it’s an old summer camp bully (Ava Capri) who outed her with a nasty rumour. It’s a strong set-up with a riveting premise on paper, yet as their plan unfurls so does the handling of this promising concept. For a film about the trials and tribulations of being a young woman, Do Revenge is scrubbed from the grounded and messy nuance of being a high school teen. It’s so sleek and so shiny that it appears almost otherworldly.
A well-chosen soundscape of Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and MUNA needle drops, plus a visual dedication to capturing the Gen Z aesthetic with a modern flair, thrusts the film into the present day. The camera floats through private school glamour with ease, scenes awash with the sun’s warmth tempered by complimentary pastel Miami high school uniforms. Full credit to the expert costume design of Alana Morshead.
In the educational setting, the nods to classic teen dramas are plentiful, from Clueless to Mean Girls to 10 Things I Hate About You. But in its references to its forebears there is something slightly too vintage about Do Revenge. Not only are there mid-20s actors playing teens (Mendes is 28, Hawke is 24), but the clamouring to inject this story with female empowerment feels bizarrely forced.
For instance, the quintessential makeover scene is recalibrated for 2022 viewing. Robinson uproots the moment from the male gaze with a recontextualisation that aims to show these young women taking back their power and being the designers of their identities. Poking fun at stereotypes and making satirical comments on Gen Z is all well and good, of course, but the failure to step beyond this and offer any new slant on the very demographic the film is aimed at feels like a wasted opportunity.
There is a lot to enjoy about Do Revenge; engaging core performances, an original visual identity and plenty of winks to past generation-defining projects. But in a bid to liven up the depleting energy the film flails in trying to deliver its last remaining twists and turns. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this film needed a bit more time to perfect the recipe.
Do Revenge is released on Netflix on 16 September.Where to watch