Review by Sean Boelman
Although the pandemic has resulted in many of the most exciting movies 2020 has to offer being delayed or skipping theaters altogether, Emerald Fennell’s darkly comedic thriller Promising Young Woman will stand out as one of the year’s most memorable theatrical releases. Insane and unpredictable in every sense of the world, this is the type of film that has to be seen to be believed.
The movie follows a young woman who, years after having her future ruined following a traumatic event, sets out to get revenge against those who wronged her. Part of what makes the film so interesting is that Fennell takes the common tropes of the genre and spins them in a way to make them feel refreshing and original.
Much of the movie’s charm comes from the fact that the film is repeatedly shocking and surprising. Viewers will be on the edge of their seats, not in anticipation of what is coming next, but in disbelief of what they just saw. With this, Fennell eschews traditional suspense in favor of something more complex, getting viewers invested in the movie more deeply.
Subtlety isn’t one of the film’s biggest strengths, but Fennell’s direct commentary is exactly what is needed right now. Sure, the movie may be a bit on-the-nose, but part of society still struggles to understand these concepts that should be extremely basic. And some of the questions that the script poses about complicity and being a bystander are interesting.
Fennell does a wonderful job of making her characters three-dimensional. The protagonist is obviously a very complex character, testing the viewer’s preconceptions about right and wrong. The villainous characters that are introduced throughout are written well too, feeling unsettlingly and realistically sleazy.
Also uniformly strong are the film’s performances. Carey Mulligan gives a layered performance as the protagonist, nailing both the genre elements of the script and the more weighty and dramatic moments. The supporting cast is also filled with great players, like Bo Burnham, Allison Brie, Alfred Molina, Laverne Cox, and Connie Britton, who all have some memorable scenes.
For a feature debut, Fennell’s style is surprisingly accomplished, not falling victim to the first-time director clichés. Key elements include the soundtrack and art direction, both of which create a playful atmosphere for the movie and juxtapose brilliantly with the dark and edgy subject matter of the story.
Promising Young Woman is a very impressive thriller that will keep even the most seasoned of viewers on their toes. The great performances and stylish visuals will hook you, but it is the intelligent script that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Promising Young Woman opens in theaters on December 25.