Spoilers ahead. When Drea Torres (Camila Mendes) and Eleanor Levetan (Maya Hawke) first pair up in Netflix’s Do Revenge, they’re raging. They've both been severely wronged by the people they trusted, and the only understandable outlet for their rage is to literally scream at the top of their lungs as they hurtle down the highway in Eleanor’s vintage car. Drea, the resident “It girl” at the campy and elite Rosehill Country Day School, has been dealing with the fallout of her ex-boyfriend leaking a sex tape she made for him. Hesitant at first, she leans into it, letting out a high-pitched, anger-fueled scream. Eleanor’s response? “You really had that pent up, huh?”
While Hawke’s Eleanor understands her new friend’s rage, the reality is that regardless of how justified women may be in their anger, it’s typically undercut, and in art and IRL, there’s a tendency to characterize angry women as hysterical and bloodthirsty. English author William Congreve once infamously said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” a phrase that’s become both timeless and abused to mock genuine female anger. Take Lady Macbeth, whose actions and interests to make her husband King are painted in popular imagination as selfish and inauthentic. Or look at the response to Serena Williams, who demanded an apology from the umpire at the 2018 U.S. Open after he penalized her because he believed she was being coached from the stands (she denied it happened and was offended at the implication that she was cheating). On screen, revenge is a tactic still typically reserved only for men, with actors like Liam Neeson and Jamie Foxx celebrated for their turns as vengeance-driven protagonists in Taken and Django Unchained, respectively.
Do Revenge wants none of that. Drea and Eleanor are an unlikely duo brought together unexpectedly at tennis camp by a shared goal: pure, unadulterated vengeance. While their reasons for revenge might differ slightly, it’s enough to motivate the pair to join together to get back at each other’s bullies in the most serious of ways — by literally ruining their tormentors’ lives. And it’s an absolute thrill to watch how unapologetic Drea and Eleanor are in their rage. In fact, the film embraces it and shows that vengeance in its full glory, flipping the script on female rage and offering a more realistic depiction of young women who are rightfully angry.
While female revenge movies like Promising Young Woman, Kill Bill, and John Tucker Must Die have centered the idea of female rage (especially when it comes to a high school jock who’s two-timing not one, but four women), there's the challenge of overcoming sexist attitudes toward angry women. “There's always going to be a curve when you're writing a story about women; there's always going to be a steeper incline because we still live in a world where likability and the idea of a woman being palatable and fitting into a box [exists],” writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson tells Refinery29.
For Drea, a self-made elite kid on scholarship with aspirations of getting into Yale, palatable is what she knows best. She’s über status-conscious and restrained in her emotions because of it, stifled both by the perfectly curated world she’s worked her way into, as well as her desire to get into an Ivy League school. But that all changes after she has her trust completely betrayed by her faux-feminist boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams), who releases a sex tape that sabotages Drea’s social standing and results in very public slut-shaming. Previously restrained, she reacts by punching Max squarely in the face… and she’s punished for it.
As the school’s headmaster, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, stresses over and over again, Drea has to be smarter than her wealthy peers. “We all have hard truths to contend with. Yours is that your peers have the luxury of operating on impulse. You don’t.” While she’s referring to Drea’s status as a student on scholarship and the fact that she doesn’t have the luxury of “messing up,” at its core is a chastising of Drea’s innate and pretty human reaction — anger. The message is hammered home when Gellar’s character emphasizes, “Today you let your anger control you, from now on I want you to control it,” as if to say: A woman needs to keep her emotions under wraps. Or the takeaway is if you’re going to be angry, be smart about it — and so begins Drea’s elaborate under-the-radar revenge plot.
For her part, Eleanor’s rage is also initially treated as something to be feared, even by Drea herself. Talking about her plan to get even with an old camp bully, Eleanor makes her intentions clear: “I don’t want to make her pay. I want to burn her to the ground.” Drea, initially taken aback, tells her to rein in the “Glennergy” (over-the-top, psychopathic vibes similar to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction). But instead of turning away from it or reining it in, the film lets Drea and Eleanor do just that: go full throttle with their rage and “burn” the bullies down through a myriad of tactics. They drug their entire senior class at a school event, have the head of the school’s farming program arrested for growing marijuana, and out Max as a serial cheater, all in the name of getting even. Both Eleanor and Drea have fully embraced their “Glennergy,” and we are here for it. After dosing their class with special mushrooms at a school dinner, Drea and Eleanor look over their work and squeal with glee. You can’t help but do the same because it is satisfying to watch people get their comeuppance.
It’s refreshing to see — if not a bit uncomfortable (I mean, they are literally trying to ruin people’s lives) — just because it is so rare. “The discomfort is inherent to any time you have to watch unlikable or flawed female characters,” Maya Hawke tells Refinery29. “It's like our world is not necessarily comfortable with it.” Which is all to say that this idea of a woman being anything but docile, meek, and timid pushes against preconceived notions and stereotypes of what women should be like (FYI, these are steeped in patriarchy). And limiting depictions of women’s anger and rage does a disservice to women IRL. Our emotions are nuanced, and and yes, one of the things we can be and should be allowed to feel is angry.
"The more art and movies we make about flawed female characters, the more comfortable we'll get with flawed females."
To be clear, both Drea and Eleanor’s desires for revenge come from a place of real harm and true hurt. Drea, from her boyfriend, and Eleanor, from a former friend who simultaneously outed her and falsely painted her as a predator. “At the center of the story, it's really about healing,” Robinson says. “Obviously they go a very dark route to get to the right place, but this is a story about a kind of trauma bonding, healing, and the emotional hurricane of being a teenage girl.” For the heroines, revenge for revenge’s sake isn’t the sole motivator behind their actions — even if they’re not aware of it initially. “[At] the core of this project is two young women trying to deal with their trauma and trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Camila Mendes says.
Which is important to know, because regardless of how dark and how absolutely off the rails their quest for vengeance gets (like, say, hitting your BFF with a car and putting her in the hospital), the film never calls its characters or their feelings “too much.” The situations they find themselves in, and the pastel-colored world of Rosehill Country Day may be over-the-top and campy, and the leads and their actions may be flawed and misguided in their execution (and also kind of criminal), but their anger and emotions are never belittled or portrayed as anything but valid.
Do Revenge isn’t advocating for you to drug your mortal frenemy, but seeing two young women tap into their darkest impulses is important because it allows others to embrace them for themselves, or at least not feel guilty for feeling them. Our emotions aren’t always cotton candy like the film’s vivid aesthetics may suggest. In the end, it’s that rage and anger that — albeit in a roundabout way — helps them come to their final realizations and eventual growth, even if it may not have been what they originally intended. And having two very flawed female heroines is helping with that unlearning. “Movies and art help us give ourselves and each other permission to be human. And the nature of being human is to be flawed,” Hawke says. “The more art and movies we make about flawed female characters, the more comfortable we'll get with flawed females.”
Editor's Note: The introduction has been updated.
Do Revenge premieres Friday, September 16, on Netflix.