Carey Mulligan 'utterly fearless' in provocative thriller Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan delivers a mesmerising Oscar-nominated performance as an avenging angel in Emerald Fennell's revenge thriller Promising Young Woman. Damon Smith reviews...

Promising Young Woman: Bo Burnham as Ryan and Carey Mulligan as Cassandra
Damon Smith

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (15, 113 mins) Thriller/Romance. Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Alfred Molina, Chris Lowell, Connie Britton. Director: Emerald Fennell.

Released: April 16 (streaming exclusively on Sky Cinema)

OSCAR-nominated writer-director Emerald Fennell sharpens her claws with a provocative thriller that draws blood from the efforts of an avenging angel (Carey Mulligan) to dole out the justice denied to her best friend in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Having just picked up the Bafta for Best British Film, Promising Young Woman strikes a sickening chord, especially when refracted through the prism of recent events, culminating in arguably the most harrowing scene of the year at a boozy bachelor party underscored by a deliciously discordant orchestral arrangement of Britney Spears' Toxic.

Mulligan issues the central character's ferocious, primal screams with unwavering commitment. She performs one stunt that we watch while cresting waves of nausea and slack-jawed despair.

The film's twisted sense of humour is as dark as the war-paint mascara that she etches around her bloodshot eyes to complement deliberately smeared lipstick and affect the dishevelled disposition of a drunk woman unable to protect herself from lascivious predators who believe she is "just asking for it".

Tally scores and men's names, scrawled in red biro in a notebook, intimate a dark and intriguing facet, which writer-director Fennell chooses to keep off screen. By omitting one side of a complex story, it is easier to pull off her jaw-dropping coup de grace.

However, the imbalance is a persistent niggle. Like the ferociously intelligent and driven central character who drops out of medical school when her life implodes, Promising Young Woman exercises restraint and holds itself back when I wish it would daringly and courageously go for broke.

Cassie Thomas (Mulligan) abandons dreams of studying medicine at Forrest University when her best friend Nina is raped by classmate Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) and the dean (Connie Britton) chooses to believe his version of events.

Now 30 and still living at home with her parents (Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge), Cassie is haunted by the past, unable to forgive herself for not being at the party to protect Nina.

A chance encounter with university classmate Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), now a paediatric doctor, rubs fresh salt into unhealed wounds and sets Cassie on a collision course with Al's conspirators including his troubled lawyer (Alfred Molina).

Promising Young Woman chooses its polished words with care, burning off extraneous dramatic fat to retain a scorching laser-like focus on Cassie as she boards her runaway train fuelled by guilt.

Mulligan is utterly fearless, expertly removing the various masks that Cassie wears to protect herself. Her winning on-screen dynamic with Burnham would spark a delightful romcom in a cosier alternate universe.

Fennell's assurance behind the camera gives us the courage to stare unflinchingly into the abyss as Cassie makes the perilous descent, transfixed on eye-catching multi-coloured fingernails as they grab on for dear life, hoping to defy gravity and fix what is, sadly, beyond repair.

RATING: 4stars

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