Do Revenge, starring Camila Mendes (Riverdale) and Maya Hawke, has all the makings of a buzz-generating machine by blending a Mean Girls vibe with the stars of two well-known adolescent franchises (Stranger Things). It’s unfortunate that the Netflix film lacks such elements, producing a jumble of homages that is slightly entertaining but falls short in the end.
The most obvious influence on this second film from director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Netflix’s Someone Great) would be Alfred Hitchcock’s oft-copied Strangers on a Train, in which a pair of high-school students meet, discover they have smoldering grudges against various people, and discuss the possibility of banding together to exact revenge on them.
However, the plot (based on a scenario by Robinson and Celeste Ballard) doesn’t really pursue that alluring possibility, which may be why it loses momentum in the final act. The film also has a lot of similarities to other teen films like Cruel Intentions, which was itself an adaptation of the French novel Dangerous Liaisons.
The novel focuses mostly on an unexpected friendship and is set in another privileged school, where the celebrations are so extravagant that they pale in comparison to Roman bacchanals. The ensemble also features a ton of talented actors from other series who are becoming a little too old to portray high school students for too much longer, like Sophie Turner in a disarmingly modest cameo and Austin Abrams from Euphoria (Game of Thrones).
Mendes Drea is the queen bee at the top of the social hierarchy despite being a scholarship student in this world of riches and luxury. They describe themselves as two wounded soldiers on the battlefield of adolescence. Eleanor Hawkes has a long-standing resentment against a girl who made a false complaint against her while revealing her, and she directs her rage at her handsome ex-boyfriend Max (Abrams), who released an explicit tape of her.
Drea and Eleanor take turns acting as narrators, which works until, in the end, it doesn’t. Drea cautions in voiceover early on, which should be a tipoff of twists to come.
The teen genre has had significant popularity on Netflix, with everything from romance to thrillers, as well as earlier works that provided new interpretations of well-known stories like Cyrano de Bergerac. Do Revenge, however, begins in that direction before making a big detour; this is a tactic that, while not inherently flawed, suffers from poor execution.
Although casting is certainly just half the battle, Mendes and Hawke have a strong performance, even if it doesn’t stray too far from their series identities.
Do Revenge, though, isn’t about breaking rules; rather, it’s about adding a new twist to a formula that has already proven successful. It accomplishes that, but stylistically it falls more into the safety-school category for a film where the characters frequently discuss their hopes to attend Ivy League schools.
On September 16, Do Revenge makes its Netflix debut.