The furore about Carey Mulligan’s ‘hotness’ in Promising Young Woman speaks to the heart of the film

I hadn’t been intending to watch Promising Young Woman, the rape-revenge fantasy film that picked up four Golden Globe nominations this week. I just read the thumbnail description and, ugh, I was out. Movies in this genre tend to meet violence with violence and always include drawn-out rape scenes that – like every other rape scene in every other movie, and a lot of bad crime fiction, too – present torture porn as some kind of feminist gesture. Who needs it after a long day at work?

I can’t say what changed my mind, although reading accounts by Evan Rachel Wood and four other women, this week, of their alleged abuses at the hands of Marilyn Manson certainly helped put me in the mood for something more strident than hand-wringing. Promising Young Woman – the title inverts the trope of the “promising young man”, a phrase that crops up, with depressing frequency, in the defence of college-aged men accused of rape – is written and directed by Emerald Fennell and has divided critics. It is thin, didactic, preachy, reductive, uneven and flippant towards victims of sexual assault. Alternatively, it is a thrilling and cathartic expression of post-#MeToo female rage towards a problem that never goes away.

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