Filmmaker Emerald Fennell made quite an impression with her debut movie as a writer and director. Promising Young Woman sees Carey Mulligan in the lead role as Cassie, the titular promising young woman whose life is derailed when she finds out her best friend has been the victim of sex abuse. Unable to let the matter go, Cassie begins to devote all her time to finding and punishing sexual predators. The following story does contain spoilers for Promising Young Woman so be warned.
While the movie plays out like a typical revenge fantasy, it also makes a sharp departure from the genre in a significant way. Cassie does not miraculously emerge victorious from her every encounter with a bad guy. Instead, the movie goes out of its way to show the devastating effect that vigilantism can have on a person's life. Fennell recently spoke about her movie to Vulture, where she pointed out that other revenge dramas like John Wick fail to take into account the mental anguish of a decent person forced to kill as revenge for previous wrongs.
"I mean, John Wick, my favorite of all time, there's got to come a point where John Wick sits down and watches television and thinks,'F*ck me, I killed a lot of people. Fuck me, what have I been doing with my life lately? Actually, I did like that dog. Don't get me wrong, it was a really cute dog. But I feel like the 7,000 people I've killed...'. And it's not to say I don't completely adore John Wick. But I do think that, a bit like romantic comedies, movies like that necessarily end with a moment of triumph. Because the aftermath of this journey, which I think we see here, is incredibly unpleasant."
In the case of Promising Young Woman, Fennell's commitment to showing a realistic revenge saga has led to the movie being criticized in some quarters. The film ends with Cassie managing to send her friend's rapist to jail, but not before he kills her. Many fans were anguished to see the heroine of the movie meet such a grisly end when she was so close to victory. In a previous interview, Emerald Fennell had defended the ending, explaining that there was no happy solution possible for someone like Cassie.
"I think that there was, for me certainly, the other ending would have been Cassie murders everyone and then goes to jail for the rest of her life and lives with that horror. There was no happy ending to this movie. All there is, is somebody who needs to show people, to deliver justice. And she does do that, but at a very, very heavy price. I didn't believe that a woman of Cassie's size would be able to physically overpower a very strong man. All of that stuff. And it was important that it interrogated the myth of the revenge journey."
Written directed and co-produced by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman features a lead cast consisting of Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, and Laverne Cox. This story originated at Vulture.