Movie #66 2021: Promising Young Woman (2020)

You know that phrase ‘anxiety-inducing cinema’? If this movie doesn’t embody that phrase, I don’t know what does.

Promising Young Woman is written, produced and directed by first-time feature film director Emerald Fennell and stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie; a young woman haunted by an undisclosed tragedy. The proverb “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” seems to be the inspiration for the whole thing, as Cassie is hell bent on getting revenge on every predatory man (and even some morally questionable women) who crosses her path. Eventually, we find out why Cassie does all the things she does, and it all culminates in one grand master plan to punish the man who caused her grief in the first place.

Initially, I gave Promising Young Woman a full 5Q rating. However, upon sitting on it overnight, I reduced my rating to a 4.5 because the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I felt about how it ended. And not necessarily in a good way.

What I will say in defence of the film is this. Many average or negative reviews seem to hold one thing in common. “I JusT doN’T liKE ThE ChaRACter shEs So HoRrIblE How AM i mEaNT To Root FOr SoMEOne LikE ThAt?!” But you know what? That’s the most sexist dog shit I’ve ever heard. When Christian Bale is Patrick Bateman or Heath Ledger is The Joker it’s “cool” and “edgy”, but when Carey Mulligan plays a vengeful psychopath it’s “not relatable”? If that’s what you took away from this movie, then you’re just as bad as the misguided characters that are in it. What she does is AWFUL, but for the right reasons. And using a female character to lead this film? It’s supposed to unsettle you. It’s supposed to make you think. And boy, does it succeed.

Such successful is mostly rooted in the fact that Mulligan knocks it out of the park. The scene where she watches the fateful video on the phone but all you see is a close up of her reaction to it? Outstanding. She fully deserves to be heavily cast in future based on this performance alone. It was so lovely to see a strong supporting cast too. Especially Laverne Cox, who is completely delightful as always.

Ending aside, what an utterly brilliant revenge story. There were times where the pacing let it down slightly, but even then it was so engaging and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, even if the entire thing was uncomfortable and squeamish. As for the ending? Thought I was going to be pissed off… ended up being satisfied. Mostly. 

Alas, I can’t really go into the ending without spoiling it. However, I’ll attempt to summarise in the least spoilerific way possible. On the one hand, it felt gratifying to see some triumphant comeuppance. On the other, the way in which retribution is distributed is… extremely upsetting. If you’ve not seen it, that will sound extremely cryptic, but if you know, you know.

I won’t let the ending take away from the outstanding achievement here though. Emerald Fennell, take a fucking bow. What a cracking directorial debut. The framing? And that soundtrack?! Ugh, how dare you? How fucking dare you?

All the awards. Give her 10 more movies to direct ASAP. (Just please try and leave me feeling less icky by the end. And perhaps start your movies with a massive trigger warning from now on.)

Promising Young Woman is currently available to pre-order on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, but as of yet has no scheduled release date.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Rating: ½

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