Carey Mulligan is a force of nature in this provocative and darkly comedic thriller that pokes at modern notions of consent and the expansive trauma of sexual assault.
Written and directed by English actor/filmmaker Emerald Fennell, who ran the second season of Killing Eve (and plays Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown) the America-set film introduces us to Cassie Thomas (Mulligan), a medical school dropout who works in a café and lives with her parents.
At night, Cassie pretends to be severely intoxicated in night clubs. When opportunistic men approach her, she lets them take her home then turns the tables when they attempt to take advantage of her.
We learn that Cassie's behaviour may be driven by the fact her best college friend was sexually assaulted by a group of men, then committed suicide when the authorities failed to take her seriously.
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Cassie's nocturnal activities face a wrinkle when a former classmate attempts to pursue a relationship with her. The film almost teases us by temporarily turning into a legitimately charming rom-com. But Cassie doesn't lose sight of her goals for long.
Although it presents a seemingly straight-forward - if chilling - set-up, the film revels in ambiguities and contradictions that move it beyond the kind of revenge story that has propelled more exploitative films featuring similarly motivated protagonists. A lot is conveyed here by what Fennell chooses not to show us.
Something is also being said in the casting choices of the film, which features a lot of actors known for "nice guy" roles playing against type.
There's a messiness to the messaging in Promising Young Woman that feels intentional – Cassie never quite does what we think she will. The ending has a powerful kicker, and the deep sense of unease lasts long after the credits roll.
Quick take: A powerful, incendiary and scarily pertinent film that refuses to provide easy answers.