Cinematic Releases: Promising Young Woman (2020) - Reviewed

images courtesy Focus Features

British actress Emerald Fennell was already a well-established character actress heavily involved in television in film, notably in the role of Camilla Shand in Seasons 3 and 4 of Netflix’s The Crown, long before setting her sights on the director’s chair with her electrifying debut feature Promising Young Woman.  Uniting with Drive and Shame actress Carey Mulligan in one of her most formidable roles yet, Fennell writes and directs this original spin on the revenge feminist tale which at once tackles a heavy subject of predatory male sexual behavior while serving up a new kind of ferocious heroine determined to burn down the silver screen.  Let it be known this is also one very surprising picture to come out at the very end of an already wildly unpredictable year for film and life in general.
Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) is a former college medical student who dropped out after her best friend Nina was raped by fellow classmates and no one believed her.  Years later after moving back home with her parents, scorned by her friend’s tragedy she spends every weekend going to bars feigning blackout drunkenness before luring horny males home with the promise of sex before confronting her prey with her sobriety and their lasciviousness, closing in like a Venus flytrap.  During the weekdays however she works a local coffee shop and attracts the attention of a former classmate wanting to date her, unaware of Cassie’s secret mission to track down and bring the perpetrators of her friend’s attack to justice.


A fresh, acerbic and darkly funny new take on the rape revenge thriller more interested in addressing breaking the silences shared by the perpetrators and bringing a buried crime to light, Promising Young Woman is a confident writing-directing debut for Emerald Fennell commanded by a striking central performance from Carey Mulligan.  While already a fan of the actress’ work with Nicolas Winding Refn and Steve McQueen, Mulligan owns this role of a vengeful femme fatale diving deep into the hornet’s nest to expose her friend’s wrongdoers.  Plucky, sharp and cunning, Cassie Thomas is always one step ahead of the game with those complicit in the silences playing into her master plan. 
For a first time director, Fennell’s widescreen production bears the look of an established auteur with lush cinematography by Benjamin Kračun giving the picture a kind of De Palma look.  Boasting an eclectic mixture of pop radio tunes intercut with a brooding score by Anthony Willis, Promising Young Woman is a flashy looking and sounding film yet never diverts from its single minded goal in hunting down and exposing the truth.  Mulligan is no stranger to working with intensely audiovisual directors and Fennell’s production boasts quite a hyperkinetic palette. 
A wild and wicked revenge feminist dark comedy which will make you root for who is probably the real heroine cinemagoers need right now, Promising Young Woman is a solid debut from a sharp and wise industry veteran just now coming into her full bloom as an artist.  Prominently featuring what could be Carey Mulligan’s best performance yet as an actress, this is one of the year’s most unexpected cinematic gifts tackling a difficult conversation with teeth and impishness.  In any case, Promising Young Woman presents what is easily the most exciting female directorial debut since Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s The Lure.
--Andrew Kotwicki