Every night it’s the same thing. Sprawled across a bar or falling drunkenly off a club stool, Cassie Thomas (as played by Carey Mulligan) is a mess. Easy prey for men who are looking for compromised sex, she’s often scooped up and taken back to theirs for what happens next. Except Cassie isn’t drunk. Every time this happens, she’s wide awake. Vengefully crossing off their names in a notebook later, it’s clear she’s seeking out men so as to humiliate them. Scarred from when her best friend was raped at med school, Cassie is a fading woman locked in a nihilistic spiral of revenge. However, when former med school classmate, Ryan Cooper persists in asking her out, it seems that this guy might actually be different – but will he?
… is going to stay with you for some time.
Suffice to say that, Emerald Fennell‘s debut feature Promising Young Woman is a film that grabs you from its very opening seconds. For when Adam Brody’s seemingly nice guy offers to take Carey Mulligan’s Cassie home, you’re already be praying the movie’s not going where it’s threatening to – and then comes the switch including the swift dispatch of this movie’s first leading man – and that’s all before the opening credits have played out.
You see as a talented med student who’s wasting away in a coffee shop, Mulligan’s Cassie only lives for revenge. Disillusioned and uninclined to engage in the chase for either ‘the’ man or the 2.4 kids, she’s the despair of both her frantic mom (as played by Jennifer Coolidge) and calmer dad (as played by a grey-haired Clancy Brown, who refreshingly finds himself in a nice guy role for a change). Though much closer to her darker, jet black sense of humour is Bo Burnham‘s Ryan Cooper. Contrite and careful, Ryan sets about trying to cautiously navigate Cassie’s rapids. However, it initially seems that neither he, nor what he represents, will ever be enough to sate Cassie’s sense of burning injustice.
The reason for this is that seeping out of every look and gesture, Carey Mulligan’s take as fractured Cassie screams both warning signs and award nominations. Feeding on a hurt that is actually nurturing her rather than devouring her, Carey Mulligan delivers a performance for the ages. Cute enough to entreat and yet old enough to communicate the jadedness in her eyes, Cary Mulligan blows away of naysaying critics I’ve read with a bat of caked-on eye shadow – and righteously so.
For whilst the plot and the logical mechanics of her later visitations don’t always stand up to scrutiny, there’s certainly enough here to keep you glued to her missile-like purpose. Later broken up into an escalating series of chapters after its first act, there’s still plenty of intrigue to be tapped including a brilliant appearance by the-ever-bankable Alfred Molina. Further elevated and underlined by Anthony Willis’s score and the movie’s sound design, a Promising Young Woman is a movie that is going to stay with you for some time.
Whilst it evokes the trapped-in-time interior stylings of Brain De Palma’s Carrie, the flipped narrative of David Slade’s Hard Candy and the seeming plot trajectory of Takeshi Miike’s Audition, Emerald Fennell‘s Promising Young Woman still manages to step beyond these references. This is because as Cassie sighs in synch with Anthony Willis’s Psycho-like string section, nothing that has passed before will ever prepare you for how the movie finally plays out.