Jeremy Saulnier’s Southern Gothic revenge tale Blue Ruin won praise at Cannes and Sundance. Tense and lean, it depicts a drifter (Macon Blair) who has payback on his mind, but is less than talented as an assassin. As it hits UK screens this Friday, here’s a few of our favourite movies about vengeance present and past. For the ones we’ve inevitably missed – well, don’t go all righteous on our asses, okay?
Based on shocking recent crimes in the news and blending social comment on modern-day China with elements of wuxia adventures and their vigilante heroes, the brutally violent, intricately layered latest from director Jia Zhangke weaves together four tales set in different provinces, from an unemployed coal miner on a rampage to a sauna receptionist who rebuffs unwanted advances. Together, these stories form a humane critique of the nation’s unbridled plunge into capitalism. It’s been winning rave reviews at festivals, and hits UK screens on 16 May.
Amat Escalante deservedly won a Best Director award at Cannes for this viscerally brutal, bleak and divisive arthouse crime drama depicting the dead-end hell created by all-powerful drug cartels. When a money-making scheme goes awry, young factory worker Heli becomes a target for the vengeful wrath of corrupt cops and dealers intent on leaving gruesome deterrent messages. A wake-up call on the horrors of this relentless cycle and social corrosion in Mexico, it’s for those with iron stomachs only. Out in the UK on 23 May.
The ultimate outcast fantasy that spawned ‘80s hits like Revenge of the Nerds enters darker terrain in Michael Lehmann's cult black comedy high school movie Heathers. Taken into the clique of the most popular girls in school, who are all named Heather, Veronica (Winona Ryder) quickly tires of their bitchy antics, and after bonding with rebellious loner J.D. (Christian Slater) over strip croquet, she joins forces with him to exact violent revenge.
The first of Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, this stylishly coloured, blood-soaked South Korean arthouse thriller sees deaf-mute factory worker Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) save up for a kidney transplant for his ailing sister, arranged through a black market organ dealer. After deceit and desperation precipitate tragedy, the urge for payback takes over.
Directing maestro Takashi Miike's flamboyantly disturbing cult classic – interpreted by some as a feminist revenge movie – sees a widower seek out a new wife through mock movie casting auditions. Smitten with a former ballet dancer, he rushes headlong toward marriage, then determines to track her down after she suddenly disappears. It’s elegantly shot, with absurdist humour and a perverse twist that make it Japanese horror at its finest.
Brian de Palma’s horror classic stars Sissy Spacek as the teen daughter of a religious fanatic. Tormented at home and bullied at school, her inner turmoil and hormonal changes are accompanied by an onset of her powers of telekinesis. After her classmates seek revenge for their detention at the school prom in a now-iconic scene involving a pig’s blood prank, cold rage fuels her supernatural payback. Oh, and for a double dose, there’s Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 remake, featuring Dazed cover star Chloe Grace Moretz.
In the ‘70s, cult classic I Spit On Your Grave sparked controversy due to its graphically depicted rape that sparks a revenge spree. A couple of decades later, New French Extremity provocateur Gaspar Noe caused similar waves with Irreversible, a chronologically reversed nihilistic vision in which two men seek payback for a girlfriend (Monica Bellucci) brutally raped in an underpass. Noe compounds nausea by swooning sound at a nerve-shredding 27-herz - a frequency more typically used by police to disperse riots.
South Koreans love their revenge films, hence their second entry on this list – the cult masterpiece from Park Chan-wook, in which Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) has been locked in a hotel room for 15 years, without understanding the motives of his captor. When he’s finally out, he embarks on a quest for vengeance, which becomes entangled with his new love for the sushi chef who served him up a whole live octopus in the film’s most infamous scene.
Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar is known for his complicated, gender-bending melodramatic plots, and this outrageous psychological thriller takes the cake. A vendetta taken to a shocking and over-the-top extreme and involving an intruder in a tiger costume underpins the twist in this tale about an artificial skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) living on a secluded estate whose wife was burnt beyond recognition in a car crash.
From 2003’s martial arts homage Kill Bill to 2012 revenge fantasy Django Unchained, the urge for payback is a driving force in many of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. Riffing on the war film genre, the king of pulp pastiche weaves a tale about the plot of Jewish cinema-owner Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) to kill top Nazi leaders in revenge for killing her family into a highly entertaining and vibrantly subversive alternate wartime European history.