Netflix movie review: Do Revenge - Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke swap victims in devilishly inventive high school comedy

Camila Mendes (left) as Drea and Maya Hawke as Eleanor in a still from Do Revenge, a devilishly inventive high school comedy.
PHOTO: Netflix

4/5 stars

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller Strangers on a Train, a pair of unacquainted would-be murderers agree to swap intended victims, thereby alleviating any suspicions of guilt. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Do Revenge repurposes this premise as a pitch black high school comedy with a decidedly “Gen Z” twist.

Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke play the scheming strangers, both entering senior year at Miami Beach’s elite Rosehill Country Day High School, harbouring serious grievances against some of their wealthy classmates.

Drea (Mendes) has pulled herself up by her bootstraps to be accepted by these posh snobs, only for her boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams), Rosehill’s undisputed golden boy, to dump her when a sex tape she sent him shows up online.

Eleanor (Hawke), meanwhile, is transferring in from out of town, in the hopes of punishing outlier Carissa (Ava Capri) for calling her a predatory lesbian at summer camp years earlier. Following a chance meeting, Drea and Eleanor agree to pool their resources and, while stopping short of actual murder, set out to destroy each other’s nemesis once and for all.

Beyond its acknowledged debt to Hitchcock, and the Patricia Highsmith novel that inspired that film, Do Revenge draws from a rich lineage of subversive teen movies. Echoing the ostentatious fashion sense of Clueless and the predatory bloodlust of Heathers, the endlessly witty screenplay also includes nods to Veronica Mars, Cruel Intentions and Fatal Attraction.

Maya Hawke as Eleanor in a still from Do Revenge.
PHOTO: Netflix

Even the cast comes from rich stock: Hawke is the daughter of Uma Thurman, the vengeful Bride in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, while Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, plays the school’s stern headmaster, and the film’s only notable adult character.

Do Revenge is considerably more than gushy fanfiction for better movies from generations past. It displays a keen understanding of 21st century teenage life, albeit from within a cloistered microcosm of wealth and privilege.

Diversity, inclusion and representation are not only present on screen, but crucial often incendiary elements to the twisty turny plot, unfolding within a community where woke culture is fiercely patrolled and frequently manipulated.

Maya Hawke (left) as Eleanor and Camila Mendes as Drea in a still from Do Revenge.
PHOTO: Netflix

Drea and Eleanor are marginalised characters, battling against a system that claims to celebrate their economic, ethnic or sexual identities, yet continues to ostracise them.

Robinson, and her co-writer Celeste Ballard playfully and articulately address these issues, while never exploiting them, talking down to their audience, or losing sight of what is, first and foremost, a sharp-tongued, devilishly inventive high school romcom about sticking it to self-involved narcissists everywhere.

Do Revenge is streaming on Netflix.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.