“Look how easy that was. I guess you just had to think about it in the right way.”Cassandra
A bold and unpredictable female revenge thriller, stripped of the male gaze that typifies the genre, Promising Young Woman is an arresting directorial debut from Emerald Fennell. Carey Mulligan’s performance is enthralling, turning on a dime between vulnerable and predatory, but revealing greater emotional depth through her relationships with her parents, her boss and a potential new love interest. The juxtaposition of these softer scenes provides tonal shifts that are uncomfortable without feeling exploitative, since they are about the character’s different headspaces rather than simply a visual cut between sex and violence (indeed, for all the darkness of its subject matter, there is little of either on screen). Cassandra’s strength is her dauntlessness rather than aggression, leading to some wonderfully feminist wish-fulfilment sequences like silently staring down a group of catcalling builders until their bravado falters. The tonal disconnect is heightened through a soundtrack of female-fronted pop, culminating in an instrumental strings cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic that drips with menace. It is the combination of these aspects that makes Promising Young Woman feel so fresh in cinema, a continuation of television experiments like Killing Eve (on which Fennell was a writer). Using this remarkable concoction to make sharp points about rape culture, the prioritisation of men’s reputations, guilt, complicity and historic transgressions, makes this an important — as well as impressive — achievement.