Credit: Focus Features

Review: Promising Young Woman

By Esme Orssich

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…

Imagine if the stumbling girl you took home was just pretending to be drunk. Imagine that when you were helping her to your place, sorry, I mean home, she suddenly wasn’t drunk anymore. Suddenly you couldn’t touch her unresponsively; she was sober, and she had caught you. Imagine she is our heroine, Cassie. Unlucky boys. 

Nothing is quite as satisfying as irony done well and Promising Young Woman is laced with the glorious stuff. Every line chinks at the patriarchy’s armour, until a whimpering archetype is left, with no one to blame but their miserable selves. Produced by Margot Robbie and directed by Emerald Fennell, who took over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the showrunner for the second season of Killing Eve, Promising Young Woman quenches our thirst for a reckoning by giving us the female revenge story we have been waiting for. 

Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a heroine who unapologetically spurns predatory and complicit men and who does not bow to any expectation. Mulligan’s performance is mouth-wateringly attractive, but not just because she is a beautiful woman. The sarcasm is so well-executed, and the glimpses of vulnerability within Cassie humanise this fictional character to the extent that she is us, a badass heroine, even if she is perhaps a shower-argument mirage of ourselves. 

The word “rape” is barely mentioned in the film, although it is blatantly obvious what the film is about, fitting with the patriarchal myth that sexual violence is ambiguous, a “he said-she said situation”. Set to a background of pop culture, with sickly-sweet decor that imitates MTV Cribs and an equally playful soundtrack, the juxtaposition between the pop foreground and the horror of rape reinforces the film’s reflection on our society as one that is obsessed with not rocking the boat and being blissfully ignorant. 

The film deals with the aftermath of what such violence can do to a person and to the ones that love them. How one person’s crime against another person is, in actual fact, a crime against that person and all who love them. Cassie is a former medical student who dropped out with her best friend Nina. She gave up a promising future, initially to support Nina, instead ending up working in a coffee shop and living with her parents aged 30. The message “this should not have been you” seems to echo throughout, and “this wasn’t supposed to happen”. 

It has a book-like structure, with an introduction, three chapters, and an end. It acts as Cassie’s own personal diary. Nina is never featured, but since Cassie’s purpose is avenging her, it is Nina who drives the plot. The film slowly unfolds Nina’s story, her rape by a fellow classmate, the three main enablers of the rapist’s innocence, and the effect it had on her. Emphasis is put upon what could have happened and the crime of complicity. Cassie struggles to be involved in her own life, as it emerges that Nina did not survive the effects of her abuser. Cassie has to come to terms that her best friend’s rapist has a guilt-free life, unplagued by his acts against Nina. This film is a must-watch. It is an education, a reckoning, and a release all in one. It shatters you, while empowering you at the same time. Make a homemade cinema night in lockdown that really counts, because although we all think it won’t be us or that it wasn’t, it could, and it was.


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