Do Revenge, Netflix’s new high school revenge swap drama starring Maya Hawke and Camilla Mendes, is a minefield of ’90s references for teen movies — from outfit-matched cliques to makeover schemes and house parties where popularity is earned. and lost. And like its inspirations, which include quintessential films like ’10 Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Cruel Intentions’, it even has roots in a literary work: Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’.
Loosely based on the Hitchcock-adapted murder-swap novel, the film centers on two participants at a wealthy private school populated by some of Gen Z’s brightest stars. The mismatched protagonists – brooding new girl, Eleanor (Hawke) and disgraced queen bee, Drea (Mendes) – bond during a clandestine meeting in the summer before their senior year and make a pact to exact each other’s revenge. . But instead of killing, they plan to expose Drea’s fake awake, golden-boy ex and get compensation for Eleanor’s traumatic coming out.
“Patricia Highsmith” is high camp so it felt very intuitive to take [the novel] and place it in this high-gloss, teenage camp environment,” the film’s writer and director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson told NBC News. “It was really about staying true to the delights of ‘Strangers on a Train,’ in this world that feels really candy-covered, saturated and fun.”
In addition to “Strangers on a Train,” Highsmith is perhaps best known for writing “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Price of Salt,” the latter of which was adapted into the 2015 lesbian romance “Carol.”
“We said we were creating a ‘girl’s world,'” she added, referring to herself and the film’s costume and production designers. “There’s just something so cool about putting Patricia Highsmith in the ‘girl world’.”
To create that world, Robinson, whose film credits include “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Someone Great,” borrowed from highly stylized classics like “Clueless,” “Heathers” and “Jawbreakers.” As for the costume, the “Do Revenge” cast of gorgeous 20-somethings are usually dressed in bubblegum-colored school uniforms or form-fitting clothes in a variety of bright hues and sheer fabrics. And even the soundtrack of pop songs and camera work, including montages of school cliques and aerial photos, pay tribute to the ’90s teen genre – as do the central storylines..
Like many other ’90s protagonists, Drea rules over the school’s popular kids—who are described by one character as “as calculated as they are beautiful,” riffing on a line from 1999’s “Cruel Intentions.” — ends when she is publicly humiliated during the opening of the film. A nude video of her has been leaked online and the most likely culprit is her boyfriend, Max (Austin Abrams, of ‘Euphoria’ fame), who has significantly more power over the privileged students than Drea, who attends the school on a scholarship. After the scarring incident, even the school principal, played by none other than Sarah Michelle Geller, wants to side with Drea.
Then, friendless and at the risk of losing her chance at Yale, she meets a new transfer, Eleanor, who, unlike Drea, is no stranger to being a social pariah. During their first meeting, which included a funny cameo from Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”), Eleanor describes how one of their mutual classmates accused her of being a predator when she came out to the girl at the camp. Connected by their respective traumas and fear of the upcoming school year, the two eventually come up with a plan to “get revenge” for each other. and get away with it.
While the ensuing plan involves plenty of predictable moments, from a makeover that puts Eleanor in touch with the popular kids to an uneasy romance between Drea and her target’s best friend, Robinson also builds in some twists to match its thriller roots. from the movie.
“I wanted to make a story where everyone was the hero, and everyone was the bad guy too,” Robinson said, adding that she wanted to look at how bad choices are inevitable when you’re young and figuring yourself out.
In addition to Robinson’s obvious passion for the project, the morally questionable characters she and co-writer Celeste Ballard created to explore those themes attracted their stars, who know very well what it takes to make a teenage hit. .
“It’s shockingly rare to hear from someone who really makes you understand how much it means to them to make this film. That’s all you really want…. and a vision,” Hawke, who is best known for her role on “Stranger Things,” told NBC News.
As for Mendes, who starred in “Riverdale,” she said, “For me, I was like, ‘I’ve done teen movies. Why is this one different?’”
“It’s different in a million ways,” she added. “It’s so fresh and original and also has all those great nostalgic references. And on top of that comes the emotional depth of the film – it’s a really nice story about healing your trauma.”
For Mendes’ Drea, that trauma is betrayed by the people she thought she could trust, who care more about her relatively limited resources than she realized. Meanwhile, Hawke’s Eleanor is haunted by the idea of being seen as a victim, which is Robinson’s contemporary spin on the gay-adolescent storyline and the subtext that runs through her source material.
“Of course there are queer undertones in a lot of the 90s and 2000s movies that I really love, and there are obviously queer undertones in Patricia Highsmith’s writing, but for me it was about telling a story that felt true young today . So there’s never been a version of this movie where Eleanor wasn’t a queer character,” Robinson said.
“In talking to a lot of young people today, their relationship with queerness is so different and evolved,” she added. “So I didn’t want Eleanor’s story to be about her release; it’s what happened when she was released.”
The choice to move beyond a coming-out story appealed to Hawke, whose “Stranger Things” character, Robin, is also odd.
“From the first moment, Eleanor feels quite comfortable with her sexuality and is therefore allowed to have a storyline that has nothing to do with her sexuality – which for women doesn’t matter what your sexual preference is, or the preferences of your character is rare,” Hawke said. “Usually the stories depend in some way on your sexuality.”
For Robinson, the sympathetic relationship she had with both her stars, and she with their characters, was essential to the film’s successful outcome. In fact, the director moved the filming location to Atlanta so that both Hawke and Mendes could apply. And given the chemistry between the two actors, her effort paid off.
“It was bizarre how direct it was,” Mendes said, referring to her early chemistry with Hawke. “I admired her as an actor. I was watching ‘Stranger Things’ so I knew her work, and when I heard she was already attached, I wanted to be a lot more part of the project.”
Hawke agreed, saying, “We have great chemistry as people, and I love our on-screen chemistry.”
“But part of what makes actors actors is that they are people who work well with people,” she added. “That’s part of the job: connecting with people. And sometimes you make a real friend, and sometimes you don’t, but the connection on the screen is part of the job.”