Promising Young Woman director Emerald Fennell, photo by Mark Jones, license: CC BY 2.0

Promising Young Woman: a colorful, biting, feminist thriller

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Emerald Fennell’s debut film, Promising Young Woman, explodes in colors and violence while also introducing this fresh, young director to the public. She might be a familiar face to some for her acting roles, portraying Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown or Elsa in The Danish Girl.

However, her career behind the camera is still in its early phase. Fennell’s first step behind the camera was made when she became the head writer and producer for the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s acclaimed spy vs hitman BBC series Killing Eve. A similar vibe to this show is palpable in her debut film, as Promising Young Woman does not shy away both from violence and a distinctly female voice.

The lead performance is the strongest weapon in the film’s arsenal.

Carey Mulligan’s bold, haunted, and melancholically removed Cassie strides across the screen on her mission to avenge the kind of everyday atrocities that are finally arriving in the public eye.

She frequents nightclubs and feigns a drunken state to be picked up by men. Once they arrive at a second location together, she tests the man’s intentions, basically projecting herself to be comatose in their presence. Once the predator reveals himself as such, Cassie flips the script and snaps out of her stupor to confront him head-on.

This dangerous game of cat and mouse inevitably leads Cassie down darker and darker roads as she etches closer to her past, her trauma, and the central issues that motivated her to walk this path. Mulligan excels in this role, her subdued, knowing glances often communicate more meaning than the whole dialog in a scene.

Each encounter is loaded with expectations, suspense, and a sense of true danger that make the thriller work so well.

Meanwhile, Promising Young Woman is also a very bright and deeply funny movie. The dialog is fresh and lively and the overall look of the film feels more like a candy-coated comedy than a hard-boiled thriller. Yet, this clash somehow works to the film’s advantage as Cassie’s quest for revenge is decidedly different from the typical revenge thriller-fare we are used to from male counterparts of the genre.

Carey Mulligan 2016
Carey Mulligan in 2016, photo by Garry Knight, license: CC BY 2.0

The motivation for vendetta, the inner life of the protagonist, her daily life: all these facets show up confidently and fully accomplished, precisely because they walk the fine line between empowering and deeply dangerous so well.

I am excited about what the director will do now, with an Academy Award in hand, because her style and arsenal of cinematic weapons are already well defined and will only become more interesting as her ouevre grows.

Whatever Fennell tackles next, I hope it will be as courageously different as Promising Young Woman.

Promising Young Woman starts playing in Leipzig cinemas tomorrow. Check out our OmU and OV/OF movie showtimes for all screenings in the original.

Heiner Uebbing originally hails from rural Lower Saxony and is based in Leipzig. His passion for film dates back to his teenage years, when he started attending film festivals, writing and corresponding about his experiences. You can probably spot him in one of Leipzig’s OmU/OV screenings in the front rows.

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