Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

*takes a deep breath*

If the intention was to subvert rape-revenge thrillers, whose best quality is to allow women to externalize their aggression against the injustice of gendered violence, simply by taking the trope and removing the very thing that makes it relevant, what was the point? If this had been made by some white guy who thinks women dying is revolutionary, I’d have my answer right there. But this was written and directed by a woman, so I must ask myself, did she mean for it to reflect positively in the conversation about rape culture? If so, how? What is the reflection we must extract from the graphic murder of Cassie? I am truly drawing a blank because of both the context of the scene itself and what follows it.

Emerald said she didn’t want to give the audience a “Hollywood” ending, she couldn’t be so “honest” through the whole thing and then pull the punch at the very end. I have a lot of grievances with that statement, but for now I’ll just take it at face value and accept that she was going for realism. She wanted the audience to truly feel the powerlessness of women, to take them out of the augmented reality of the movie back to our own at full speed. Alright. Worked. I’ll give her that. But then she does exactly what she said she didn’t want to do, which is pull the punch.

The movie ends with the perpetrators being arrested and closes on a wink emoji that Cassie programmed before her death. Everything from the framing, the soundtrack, the editing, the acting, tells us this is a triumphant moment. It tries to genuinely convince us that this is catharsis, and from what I have seen, a lot of people felt it was, truly thought that was a satisfying conclusion that in some way redeems, even partially, the blow of the previous 6 minutes of violation of a woman’s body, not to mention, has you relying on a system that the movie itself has spent its entire run discrediting for “justice”. I hated that they killed off Cassie, but if they had ended on the actual weight of the tragedy, instead of undercutting it with this, I could’ve at least respected the decision.

In addition to that, if the intention was being realistic and make us feel bad for Cassie, and reflect on the violence committed against women specifically, why put it in a context where she is the predator? Don't misunderstand me, Cassie was absolutely correct to fuck up those guys, but she did handcuff a man and threaten him with a scalpel, one could argue, and without difficulty, that he killed her in self-defense. That is not truly gendered violence and therefore struggles to make commentary on it.

Also, because her killing isn't gender based, the only thing that might've made it significant was the aftermath - the cop who was ready to believe she'd run away, Bo Burnham saying she was suicidal on a dime, her father being ready to discredit her sanity. Ending with the neglect of the system would have been an actual call out, but as it was, it completely failed at critique. This movie neither commits to, nor transcends, the "realism" its creator so confidently says was the intent.

The thing though, is that even knowing Cassie’s murder, objectively, isn’t necessarily gendered, it feels like it is because it is coded as such. The plot explicitly references The Night of the Hunter, a movie about a misogynistic serial killer, though you wouldn’t have to know it to sense the tone leans that way because there are plenty of other cues, like burning being a recurring motif in feminicide or “killing the stripper” being a trope that will often appear on comedies and video games.

But why code it like that? Evidently, to make it feel like her death ~means something~ and disguise the true reason it’s there: plain, old shock value.

This movie isn't an exercise in buildup and pay off, much less in clever subversion of expectations; it's just very dishonest. You'd think we wouldn't still have to be saying this, but movie logic isn't real life. Each film sets up its own rules about what is and isn't possible in its confinements. Cassie went home with over a hundred men, at night, without disclosing her location to anyone, and proceed to anger them and nothing bad ever happened that we know of, she smashed the tail lights of an aggressive male on a deserted road and he just drove away. Is that what the director calls “honest”?

The women we shouldn't like are bitches, the men we shouldn't like are clear creeps who literally say they are "nice guys" to get that particular point across. This reality is removed, it is candy coated and set to pop music. Nina is faceless, what happened to her is othered, nobody ever says the words rape, trauma or suicide and not once is Cassie shown to be, thinks she is or even is told she is, at risk, much less is the audience clued in through storytelling or camera cues. And I'm completely ignoring the marketing to say this, which is its own thing. All this to set up the pure shock value of suddenly remembering this entire thing wants to be deep, and instead of just having made nuanced commentary throughout, they kill her off to bring the realism into it. The tone shift gives you whiplash and I know how much people love to be surprised which is why I am not surprised this is so popular.

In never acknowledging the greater scheme of things, as to not make anyone suspect Cassie might not succeed and risk the aforementioned shock value, it sacrifices the opportunity to actually say something meaningful. Her death isn't a great work of subversion, it just feels like an unfortunate accident, and tells us... what? That sexy handcuffs aren’t reliable for containment? That most grown men can overpower a skinny white lady? Groundbreaking.

But again, even then this was salvageable, like I said, if they had at least committed to the bullet train back to our reality, it would've been, at the very least, respectable, but it ends with that idiotic wink and betrays its own intentions for the second time in the space of 10 fucking minutes.

The barely there depth would have been very excusable had the sole purpose of this been to be a revenge thriller, but as soon as it reveals it isn’t (which happens very early on) we are forced to take it seriously, and personally, I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny.

But you can throw all I’ve said out the window if the point was simply “revenge is bad and you shouldn’t do it”, in which case it all honestly makes perfect sense, but instead of being only cheap and frustrating it would be cruel and exploitative given the subject matter.

I know this will be an unpopular opinion, especially while we are still in the eye of the hurricane, and I don't even know if I've been coherent, but I'd like to think this might help other people who feel alienated by the praise this movie, and its ending, are getting. We deserve kinship ya'll.

I saw several reviews that were 'yas queen' type things and even some that were along the lines of "wish we could do what cassie did to those men" and like? did WHAT? give them a stern talking to? or get murdered???

God can't wait to forget all this

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