Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman offers a smart take on the revenge thriller genre. The film tackles topics of sexual abuse but avoids some familiar tropes. Rather than relying on slasher elements, this film takes the high ground regarding revenge. Carrey Mulligan’s performance adds depth and dimension to the narrative. What we get is a story that is as much fulfilling as it is tragic.
Avoiding the Slasher
The one thing that is absent from Promising Young Woman is murder and gore. Those elements have very little screen time. The first trailer suggested the film could be a bloody revenge thriller with lots of violence. The film itself could not be more different. Cassandra (Carrie Mulligan) bates her would-be assaulters into an abusive position only to scare them away. She avoids any violent acts. Instead of meeting wrong with wrong, Fennell took the more measured approach.
While violence is not entirely absent in the film, it only highlights men’s despicable acts with Cassandra. The most extreme scene occurs at the end of the film and utilizes violence in a striking and upsetting way. While it is difficult to watch, it avoids the theatricality tied to slasher films. The film’s resolution demonstrates the brilliant way tragedy leads to triumph.
In Cassandra’s Shoes
Carey Mulligan’s performance is what makes Promising Young Woman so engaging. The role requires a range of emotions and personas that she pulls off flawlessly. The two most notable personas are Cassandra’s everyday life and her vigilante/avenger side. In everyday mode, Cassandra displays a range of identifiable emotions. From happiness, pain, and anger to sarcasm, Cassandra’s day-to-day state resembles most of us.
Once the lights go out, and her vigilante persona comes alive, she transforms entirely. Cassandra becomes extremely aggressive and intimidating. In her presence, men begin by invading her personal space then immediately want out once she drops the act. Carey Milligan’s precise execution of those qualities makes the power shift completely believable. Those character traits enhance the film’s ending, and we get a sense that only Cassandra could have pulled it off.
Ultimately, Promising Young Woman is an extremely engaging and relevant film that relies on intelligence over spectacle.