Starring Siren Jørgensen, Frode Winther, Maria Bock
Directed by Kjersti Steinsbø
Rebekka (Siren Jørgensen) is looking for revenge. Her younger sister has just committed suicide after decades of PTSD related to a rape that happened twenty years before the movie starts, when she was in her early teens. For Rebekka the only thing to do is grab a knife from the kitchen, find the guy, and then stab him until he’s dead. But complications arise.
Sitting in his house, knife in her purse and posing as a travel writer in town to write an article about his seaside hotel, his wife suddenly walks in, a baby in her arms. Realizing that murdering a man in front of his wife and child would probably have some ill psychological effects on them, she decides to take another route: slowly and deliberately exposing him as a rapist, ruining his reputation and turning an entire town against him. This strategy has a couple of advantages, not the least of which is that Rebekka won’t go to jail for life.
Co-writer/director Kjersti Steinsbø amps up the tension when she needs to with a handheld camera and a minimal soundtrack. But she also knows when to give her audience some breathing room. The quiet moments are some of the best in the film and make the tense moments even more effective.
Siren Jørgensen is brilliant as Rebekka. She has a hard, determined face that is somehow also sympathetic, sad, and fearful. She can look soft or severe, but one emotion is always lying underneath the surface of another. It’s impressive to watch.
Frode Winther is also quite good as Morten, the rapist. There’s always something sinister registering underneath his smile and friendly demeanor. Something that might unconsciously make a person feel like he’s a bit creepy, even if they can’t figure out exactly why. Of course, from the opening of the film the audience is privy to the reasons behind the creepiness, but Morten also has enough charm that we can see how even the people who know him best could fall for his ruse. None of this would have been possible in the hands of a lesser actor.
I have to admit it’s quite nice to see women at the helm of rape-revenge stories. Last year’s M.F.A, written by Leah McKendrick and directed by Natalia Leite, is a good example of this, although it’s quite a bit more brutal than Hevn. Despite their stylistic differences, they’re both very powerful films told from a woman’s point of view. If there’s to be a future in rape-revenge films, they should be made by women. Men have already had their chance.
Hven is full of moral complications and ambiguity from the moment that Rebekka decides to slowly torment Morten rather than gut him. As part of her plan, Rebekka uses a teenager to entrap Morten without her knowledge. There are so many ways that this could go wrong. After all, the man is a serial rapist. If something happens to the girl in Rebekka’s pursuit of revenge, does that make her as bad as Morten? Potentially. It’s questions like these that make this movie so interesting.
There aren’t a lot of completely sympathetic characters unless you count Morten’s wife, Nina (Maria Bock). She’s a genuinely good person who’s being manipulated from both sides. We know what Morten is hiding from her; but Rebekka, a woman she forms a quick friendship with, is trying to turn her against her husband. Not that Nina shouldn’t turn against her husband; but instead of being confronted by the cold facts right away, she’s strung along for weeks, all the while thinking that Rebekka sincerely wants to be her friend.
Fans looking for brutality might be a bit disappointed with Hevn, though there is some of that in the film’s climax. Still, the movie is very effective in keeping you guessing exactly what’s coming next, where the winding road of vengeance is going to lead. Steinsbø has crafted a film where the threat of violence looms in every scene, however quiet it might seem. Hevn, now playing in select theaters, is masterfully crafted and well worth the watch.