Do Revenge Review: This Campy Teen Thriller Gives Us Hitchcock By Way Of Cher Horowitz

Hell hath no fury like a teenage girl scorned. The students of Rosehill Country Day have the misfortune of learning this the hard way when they snicker as former It-Girl Drea (Camila Mendes) falls from grace. If the Gen-Z teens were up to date on the required reading, perhaps they would've known better than to cross her — legions of teen thrillers have been hammering this lesson in for decades, from "Heathers" to "Mean Girls" to "Cruel Intentions." But while most of those stories end with a body count, Netflix's Hitchcockian revenge tale knows that teenagers don't need to wield knives to draw blood; their scathing looks and razor-sharp digs can do that dirty work on a psychological level. And when they put their minds to it, their maniacal schemes can wreck lives in a way much more visceral than death. This is the premise of "Do Revenge," a thriller with the glossy style of a '90s teen comedy but all the darkness of a melodramatic revenge tale.

Prior to embarking on a warpath for revenge, Drea is not your average school ruler: don't get me wrong, she's as fashionable as she is mean, has a dedicated clique, and inspires fear and admiration wherever she goes. In the vein of Cher Horowitz and Regina George, she is the undeniable queen bee at the top of the food chain. But she's also a little different from the other members of Rosehill's royalty. Unlike them, Drea doesn't come from obscene wealth: she's a scholarship student of color, who spent years building her status and reputation. She doesn't share in their privilege, but she does bask in the glow of it — up until it's snatched from her clutches.

This is one of many ways that "Do Revenge" challenges the conventions of its very familiar ground. After mere seconds in Drea's candy-coated world, it'll be abundantly clear that writer/director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson is well-versed in the 90s teen fanfare. The film acts as an homage to an entire canon of movies, updating their norms to co-exist on a steamer that hosts "Insatiable" and "Riverdale." If "Do Revenge" feels familiar or predictable, that's only because it's reveling in nostalgia — but when it meshes those winks to the past with the realities of the present, that's where it truly thrives.

There's nothing scarier than vengeful teens

Drea's downfall comes right when she's at the height of her powers, primed to rule the school during senior year and finally seize her acceptance to Yale. But that triumph is decimated before it ever becomes real when an intimate Snapchat video sent to her boyfriend is leaked to the entire school. The only thing keeping Drea from physically imploding is a well-timed meet cute with Maya Hawke's effortlessly cool Eleanor, a queer alt-girl with a tragic tale of her own — she's still nursing the pain of being publicly outed and made into a social pariah. The solution to the problems is thus, quite obvious: a la "Strangers on a Train," they team up to do each other's revenge (hence the grammatically challenged title).

The film's contemporary bubblegum pop is the perfect setting for exploring the inner darkness of its vengeful teens, but over the course of its runtime, "Do Revenge" also reveals a gooey center: the heartfelt core of this story is the budding friendship between Drea and Eleanor, girls plagued by hurt who slowly realize that they can let go of their walls in the presence of their new friend. If only they could nurture their relationship and find comfort in one another, maybe they wouldn't need to derail their lives for the sake of vengeance! Alas, their nonliteral bloodlust is all-consuming as the two teens struggle to realize the importance of what's right in front of them — too obsessed with wrecking the lives of the people who wronged them.

Their acts of revenge, while pretty heinous, aren't even their worst crimes. Drea and Eleanor also make the mistake of shifting the blame off of themselves and fully onto the rest of the world. And morally speaking, that's where our protagonists run into trouble. Just how far are they willing to go for the sake of revenge? And at what point do they stop being the hero of this story? While tangling with those questions is an undeniable part of the "Do Revenge" experience, the desire to ignore morality is very understandable — once Hawke and Mendes get going, their dynamic is so fun that it's easy to overlook a couple of dozen felonies.

Self-aware in all the best ways

On a meta-level, "Do Revenge" is a glorious homage to the '90s flicks of the past, from the impeccable needle drops and preppy pastel fashion to the continuously escalating third act, jam-packed with plot twists, reveals, and a campy sense of humor. Frankly, the main thing holding the film back is its resistance to leap over the ledge that it so cautiously toes. "Do Revenge" is more bark than bite, and maybe it's the "Strangers on a Train" of it all or the fact that it pays homage to deadly thrillers like "Heathers," but a certain level of viciousness is glaringly missing.

Following on the heels of other scathing teen stories is no easy feat though. In filling the void left by thrillers that date back to 1999, it would be easy to get completely submerged in nostalgia but Robinson co-writer Celeste Ballard clearly see the merit in blending past and present. When Eleanor graciously accepts a guided tour of the school cliques, it's a callback to the likes of "Mean Girls" and "Clueless": but instead of the goth, jock, and prep dynamics, we're treated to the all-important subgroups of "Instagram witches," "horny theater kids" and the vegan "farm kids." Instead of a hyper-masculine, empty-headed jock type, the target of Drea's anger is a faux-feminist trust-fund kid decked out in nail polish and earrings. His popularity is based on performative allyship and his androgynous fashion choices call upon internet boyfriends a la Harry Styles.

There's a reason the film cleverly casts a who's who of current teen TV stars — Mendes is obviously channeling her "Riverdale" counterpart, Veronica Lodge, but embracing her killer instinct while subtracting the cringy dialogue. Meanwhile, Hawke is reminding us why cool-girl Robin became the breakout of "Stranger Things." And if you think that's pitch-perfect casting, just wait until you see Rosehill's headmaster.

An acquired aesthetic

"Do Revenge" is self-aware in all the best ways, calling upon movie references as much as it does internet speak. Embracing the fun of its conventions, this is a movie that makes time for an extensive makeover montage and also dedicates ample screentime to a lizard in a dress. Best of all is how it takes special care to let its leads be agents of chaos, toeing the line of pure evil and — a much worst offense for a female character — unlikability.

By all means, "Do Revenge" is an acquired aesthetic: a couple of minutes into its two-hour runtime, when Sophie Turner is decked out in pastel tennis wear and screaming about coke (the drug, not the drink), you'll either be on the wavelength or off of it. If destructive divas in designer wear isn't your Saturday night ideal, then you might be a little lost. But if the confectionery school uniforms and blaring sound of Olivia Rodrigo is a welcome appeal, then this deliciously dark quest for vengeance will easily steal your heart. 

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10