Do Revenge review – biting Netflix comedy updates Strangers on a Train

Do Revenge, a sharp Netflix dark comedy starring Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke as vengeance-obsessed high schoolers, is a virtual parade of teen movie nostalgia – a shopping mall of homages, if you will. The students at posh Rosehill Academy in Miami wear ludicrously elaborate outfits, a la Clueless. Popular kids lounge on a fountain, a la Scream. There’s a tour of Rosehill’s cliques – the zodiac thoughts club, the theater nerds – a la Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You. As in She’s All That or Clueless or countless others, Mendes’s Drea, a stone-cold striver singularly focused on getting into – where else? – Yale, gives awkward newcomer Eleanor (Hawke) a makeover. Rosehill’s principal, the only adult character, is played by 90s star Sarah Michelle Gellar.

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It would be easy for a film to get lost in the reference sauce, but Do Revenge, written by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and Celeste Ballard, thankfully strings together the familiar tributes and tropes with updated allusions aimed for Gen Z. The Rosehill elite drop such Twitter-speak as “choosing violence”, “safe space”, and “as a fellow woman of color” with delicious disdain. The no-skips soundtrack pairs such 90s nods as Meredith Brooks, Hole and Fatboy Slim with contemporary needle drops from Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, MUNA and Caroline Polachek’s So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings. (Amanda Yamate and Este Haim, of the band Haim, created the effective neo-noir score.) The school’s golden boy, ultra-rich louche Max (Euphoria’s Austin Abrams) has painted nails and ample jewelry – more faux-sensitive boy than jock, Harry Styles than John Tucker.

Like this summer’s Honor Society, Paramount’s surprisingly sharp-toothed teen movie about a girl so singularly obsessed with getting into Harvard that she seduces a competitor to tank his grades, Do Revenge leans more into the campy satire side of the American teen movie canon. Its outsized mean girl ruthlessness with a candy-coated shell, led by Mendes and Hawke’s commanding performances, is a biting, if overlong, good time.

In particular, Mendes’s six years on Riverdale have refined her performance of a popular bitch with secret vulnerability to a fine, relishable point. Her Drea, though looking fully adult (Mendes is 28), tears up a scene – and everyone around her as Rosehill’s queen bee, an overachiever over-compensating for middle-class roots (her single mother, off-screen, is a nurse). That is, until her sex tape, intended for boyfriend Max, gets leaked, and she becomes an overnight social pariah; these kinds of things, she states a bit too baldly, never hurt the guy’s reputation. At a summer tennis camp in ritzy Palm Beach, she meets transfer student Eleanor, still fuming from a rumor started years ago by fellow camper Carissa (Ava Capri).

Robinson, the film’s director (following Netflix’s 2019 romcom Someone Great), has said that her initial inspiration was Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, but instead of two men exchanging murder assignments, these two murderously bitter high school girls swap revenge targets, “like a fucked-up task rabbit”. Drea searches for dirt in Carissa’s school garden, where she’s banished as punishment for slapping Max for leaking the video – and begins to fall for Carissa’s best friend Russ (Ms Marvel’s Rish Shah), the unassuming (but still hot) nerd a la Penn Badgley in John Tucker Must Die. Glowed-up Eleanor infiltrates Max’s social circle to obtain evidence that he’s not the “ally” he claims to be with his hilariously titled Cis-Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League – and falls for his sister Gabbi (Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’s Talia Ryder), who sees through her act.

The revenge plots quickly escalate to the indefensible, such as repeating the original sin of leaking personal messages. After a well-delivered twist about two-thirds of the way through, things spiral into a cascade of sociopathic behavior (and justifications for said behavior). At 118 minutes, Do Revenge is too bloated to carry that much oneupmanship. It is refreshing, as Mendes and Hawke have said, to have two lead female characters completely uninterested in likability, to use a deeply loaded term, but you do need someone to root for in a two-hour movie; campy narcissism can only engage for so long. And even at its too-long runtime, there seem to be scenes missing – Eleanor and Gabbi seem to already know each other when they first meet at school, Drea and Russ establish a connection in less than two scenes, and feminist Gabbi’s relationship with her brother remains murky.

Still, Do Revenge offers enough refreshing zaps to actually leave a mark. Robinson’s slick direction, vibrant production design from Hillary Gurtler and deliciously gaudy outfits from costume designer Alana Morshead land it in the upper echelon of visual quality for Netflix movies. And though I don’t necessarily see lines such as “your new vibe is high status cunt” sticking as well as, say, “get in loser, we’re going shopping,” Do Revenge still delivers zingers as one of the better recent entries in a beloved genre.

  • Do Revenge is available on Netflix on 16 September