The 400-Word Review: Promising Young Woman
By Sean Collier
December 23, 2020
Given the high volume of films I watch in a given year, few manage to linger long after the credits roll. Yet I found myself carrying “Promising Young Woman” around for days; it’s a powerful and deeply disturbing movie.
For some, that may serve as a warning — to be clear, this is not a film to watch lightly. That’s no criticism; it is a remarkable, and deeply relevant, film. It’s troubling because it is so well executed.
Many films mean to shock and fail. “Promising Young Woman” will shake you.
The marketing for the film, which is the directorial debut for “Killing Eve” showrunner Emerald Fennell, does not obfuscate; this is a postmodern version of a rape-revenge story. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) has lost her best friend, Nina, to suicide, following a disgusting sexual assault; the rape became campus gossip, leading Nina to take her own life and Cassie to drop out of school.
More than a decade later, Cassie spends her weekends serving cautionary tales to men who would do the same. She acts drunk at a bar or club, waits for a guy to take her home and try to attack her, then drops the act and confronts them.
It’s not clear what fate these men suffer; “Promising Young Woman” is vague on most of the details of Cassie’s mission. (She does suggest to one would-be rapist that there are plenty of other women like her, some more violent; it’s not clear if this is a threat or the truth.) Cassie, however, is left in an arrested existence; she may be doing noble work, but it’s taking a toll.
Chance encounters lead to an actual relationship — and to an update on the whereabouts of the man who raped Nina. Cassie finds herself pulled toward a culmination of her mission, one she hopes will afford her some peace.
There are twists from there. “Promising Young Woman” is uninterested in proceeding the way the audience expects. Subversion is the name of the game, particularly in terms of the film’s tone and attitude; the same marketing that does not hide the subject matter also presents the film as a stylish, wry thriller. It is, in a way. But audiences hoping for fun or something like it will find the rug swiftly pulled out.
Perhaps that’s the symbolic point, though. You knew what you were getting into; what did you expect?
My Rating: 9/10