A Promising Young Woman: The Female Revenge Genre


The female revenge genre has had a revamp over recent years. Strong representations of femininity in cinema have shifted from the ‘final girl’ trope of 80s horror to the contemporary female-fronted dramas and thrillers that offer numerous award nominations for those in the lead roles on an increasingly international scale. The upcoming black comedy thriller Promising Young Woman aims to reignite the genre on an exciting scale, bringing back the much-loved patriarchal exploration with a modern-day spin.

When slasher films were on the rise, it was the female protagonist who drew the audience in, maintaining their interest through their charisma and impact. Characters such as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween (1978), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) in the Scream (1996-) franchise and Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) became embodiments of the ‘strong woman’. The final girl became an expected convention in horror films and, although these were sometimes less feminist and more stereotypical, the tenacious female protagonist grew into an important part of the cinema landscape that follows through to this day.

Although it became clear that films took a more feminist approach in the early 2000s, there grew an ever clearer lack of female directors working on female-fronted films. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino used the popularity of ‘leading ladies’ to form the inspiration for his, now infamous, film series which comprises two films – Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). With Uma Thurman at the reigns, the film draws upon the female revenge genre that we see today, using violence to create a powerful woman whose vengeful rampage earned her multiple nominations for the role.

In more recent years, the revenge genre has crossed even more boundaries, inspiring films on a global scale such as Paul Verhoeven’s French thriller Elle (2016). The film explores the impact of sexual harassment upon the life of its victim and received a mass of critical acclaim from the moment it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Films such as Elle are integral in the development of the genre, exploring real-life social issues through a platform that is loved and enjoyed by many. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) was another critical success, earning lead actress Frances McDormand an Academy Award for Best Actress at the 90th awards ceremony.

The female revenge genre opens up the potential for more female characters and therefore more female actors and directors gaining critical acclaim for their work. Whilst female directors are still being snubbed on an industry-wide scale, there is hope for the increasing number of female filmmakers through the reignition of the genre in recent years; think back to the success of films such as Jennifer’s Body (2009) written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama!

Emerald Fennell’s upcoming film debut Promising Young Woman sets up to be a strong start for female-fronted films being released in 2021. The film, which is set to be released just next month in the UK, follows the story of Cassie (Carey Mulligan) whose life is changed suddenly, leading to an inspired moment of vengeance which follows her throughout the film’s narrative. Mulligan is set to be a brilliant lead, with critics already praising the film’s portrayal of female confidence and independence.

The fact that the film is actually directed by a female filmmaker makes this an even more exciting upcoming release that promises to liken itself to the revenge genre in a unique and impactful way. With its release soon approaching, Promising Young Woman is a film to keep your eye out for if you’re missing some female empowerment!

Promising Young Woman(15) is set to be released on 12th February 2021. Check out the official trailer below.


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film masters student and ex-records/live exec 20/21

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