Instagram-friendly high school satire lands somewhere between Mean Girls and Heathers: Do Revenge review

Do Revenge: key information

– Released on Netflix on September 16
– Directed by Jennifer Kaitlyn Robinson
– Written by Robinson and Celeste Ballard
– Stars Stranger Things’ Maya Hawke and Riverdale’s Camila Mendes
– Billed as a black comedy teen flick
– Two-hour runtime

“We’re not trying to solve world peace,” director and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson recently clarified to Elle about Do Revenge, her latest girl power tale. “It’s just a really fun movie that looks cool and stars a bunch of really excellent actors who are at the top of their craft and are also just gorgeous.” 

If you hit play on Do Revenge with such moderate expectations, chances are you’ll be left more than satisfied. 

The Netflix movie stars Camila Mendes (Riverdale) as Drea, a queen bee at elite high school Rosehill who’s spent the last 17 years “meticulously creating the perfect life”. She’s on the cusp of getting accepted into her dream college, Yale, has featured in Teen Vogue’s zeitgeist-defining Next Gen list, and has a boyfriend named Max (Dash and Lily’s Austin Abrams) who every guy wants to be – and every girl wants to be with. 

As she soon finds out, though, Max has already fulfilled most of the latter’s wishes. Even more damagingly, he leaks a sex tape which turns Drea into a social pariah and, thanks to her understandably punchy response, banishes her to community service at the local tennis camp.

Max isn’t the guy that Drea believes him to be. (Image credit: Kim Simms/Netflix)

It’s there she meets Eleanor (Stranger Things’ Maya Hawke), a slightly more awkward teen seemingly far removed from the mean girls that populate her inner circle (“I was a Billie Jean King in a sea of Maria Sharapovas”). She also has her own high school horror story having once been wrongfully accused of forcing herself on a fellow female student. After bonding over shared traumas during a ride home, the pair become an unlikely dream team hellbent on making their tormentors suffer. 

However, to avoid suspicion, they agree to exchange revenge plots in the style of Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train. Eleanor will infiltrate the popular clique in order to prove Max isn’t the “accidental feminist” he purports to be. Meanwhile, Drea will take down her new BFF’s nemesis, the rumor-spreading farm girl Carissa (Ava Capri), by suddenly taking a keen interest in growing root vegetables. 

“We were two wounded soldiers on the battlefield of adolescence,” Drea narrates as Eleanor transfers to her stomping ground just in time for the new school year. Do Revenge is stuffed full of similarly pithy lines about the trials and tribulations of navigating young adulthood. Expect “Glenergy” – the quantifiable summoning of Glenn Close’s bunny boiler character in Fatal Attraction – to have entered the vernacular by the end of the year.  

Robinson previously helmed the similarly-themed Sweet/Vicious, an MTV one-season wonder in which two college students become vigilantes in the war on campus sexual assault. And Do Revenge’s overlong two-hour runtime possesses a similarly pitch-black comic streak. 

Indeed, comparisons will inevitably be made with the likes of mid-’00s sleepover classics Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die. But don’t let the obsessive amount of pastels – even the library books are colour-coordinated – and nostalgic pop soundtrack (everything from Robyn’s Do You Know What It Takes to Fatboy Slim’s Praise You) fool you. Yes, Do Revenge has just as much in common with the gleeful anarchy of Assassination Nation, the underrated girl power satire about a community shell-shocked by the leaking of every resident’s internet activities, and, of course, the ultimate high school revenge flick Heathers. After all, this is a film which freely throws the C-word around with wild abandon and uses both magic mushrooms and cocaine in its revenge plots. 

Sarah Michelle Gellar delivers some scene-stealing turns as the high school’s principal. (Image credit: Kim Simms/Netflix)

Additionally, the likes of Alexa and Katie’s Paris Berelc, 13 Reasons Why’s Alisha Boe and Outer Banks’ Jonathan Daviss, the cast described by Robinson as the “young Hollywood Avengers” appear to relish the opportunity to venture outside their usual PG-13 territory. Abrams, in particular, delivers a brilliantly loathsome turn as the slimy and seemingly untouchable trust fund brat who somehow manages to convince his peers he’s the victim of the sex tape scandal. His launching of the “Cis Hetero Men Championing Female-Identifying Students League” is just one hilarious example of his performative wokeness.

The two leads are also magnetic as the schemers whose questionable behaviour both past and present leaves you continually shifting your sympathies. Robinson was so determined to get Hawke on board she moved production from Los Angeles to Atlanta to accommodate her Stranger Things commitments. And the multi-talent repays the faith invested with a performance which recalls the ultra-coolness of her mother Uma Thurman’s early ‘90s star-making phase. Mendes, meanwhile, imbues Drea with a mix of vulnerability, desperation and sadness (“sometimes it hurts just to exist”) which makes her narcissism – a quality which will prove integral to the twisty denouement – easier to forgive. 

Of course, for Netflix subscribers of a certain age, Do Revenge’s main draw will undoubtedly be Sarah Michelle Gellar. Robinson admits she wrote her character’s lines in the vein of a Cruel Intentions sequel. And while Gellar’s school principal isn’t quite as sociopathic as Kathryn Merteuil – she takes out most of her frustrations on a poor bonsai tree – she’s hardly the picture of warmth, either. The fact the film is littered with promising talent on the verge of the A-list is another way in which it draws parallels with the 1999 Dangerous Liaisons remake.

Our verdict

Do Revenge undoubtedly looks the part but, as its director hints at, there isn’t too much substance to its Instagram-friendly styled narrative. Although there’s an attempt to tackle themes of accountability, misinformation and cancel culture, it’s done so with the broadest of strokes. And the third act is riddled with contrivances – watch out for a staged car crash which would have taken diamond-like precision to pull off – which takes things a little too far beyond the realms of plausibility. 

Nevertheless, this is still a cut above your average Netflix fare. What Do Revenge lacks in nuance (and as Eleanor herself points out, correct grammar), it makes up for in personality, highly quotable dialogue, and emotionally supportive bearded dragons named after Olivia Colman. In fact, had it not bypassed cinemas, it could have quite easily become Generation Z’s defining teen movie.  

Do Revenge is out now on Netflix.

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