In high school, some people measure success by the clique they run with or the accolades they receive.
“But my metric is a little different,” Drea tells us.
For the past 17 years, Drea has been meticulously curating the perfect life. She earned a scholarship to the prestigious high school, Rosehill, to increase her chances of getting into an Ivy League university. She made friends with the rich, popular kids to secure her social status. And she started dating Rosehill’s golden boy, Max Broussard.
But none of that is enough for Drea.
According to her, the way you know you’ve reached the top is “when someone wants to destroy you.”
And that’s exactly what’s happened to her.
At the end of their junior year, Max pressures Drea to send him a sexually explicit video. The next day, that video gets leaked to their entire school.
“I was hacked!” Max claims. But was he though?
Drea doesn’t buy it. So she spends the summer allowing her hatred to fester.
She’s not the only one with a hatchet to bury though.
Eleanor has been a social pariah since people found out she was queer in middle school. Another girl claimed Eleanor held her down and tried to kiss her.
It’s not that the girl outed her, Eleanor says. She was fine with people knowing she was gay. It’s that the girl made Eleanor out to be a predator.
“I wish we could hire people to take them down,” Drea states.
But that gives her an idea. What if they could get someone to carry out retribution for them?
“Let’s do each other’s revenge!” they agree.
Ultimately, Drea and Eleanor realize that getting revenge on someone won’t necessarily make you feel better. In fact, it only makes you feel worse about yourself because of how nasty you have to be to go through with it. Not to mention that if you have to change everything about yourself and surrender your integrity in order to enact revenge, it’s probably not worth it.
They also learn that being successful in high school—by anyone’s definition—may not matter as much as they thought. Getting good grades and getting into a good college are great aspirations, but they don’t have to encompass your entire identity. And neither does who you hang out with.
Two girls eventually apologize to each other when they realize how badly they’ve behaved. We also see some positive moments of women supporting and believing other women. We witness some people channeling their anger into artistic endeavors rather than let themselves be consumed by rage. A boy with toxic behavior eventually attends a group therapy session.
Several self-proclaimed witches attend Drea and Eleanor’s school. We see them participate in a séance, and we hear that one of the girls allegedly made another girl levitate during one such event. There are references to zodiac signs and Ouija boards.
Drea tricks a girl spreading rumors into donating her entire wardrobe to a church’s clothing drive. She feigns piety and tells people to pray for a girl getting sent to rehab. Someone references Dante’s Inferno. Someone calls Max “the devil.”
Obviously, we hear a lot about teenagers exchanging explicit photos and videos via text and social media. We see some of these pictures on phones, and we see and hear Drea at the beginning of her own video where she removes her clothes (though the camera cuts away before anything graphic is seen).
Eleanor says she told a girl at camp she was gay, and the girl responded by lying that Eleanor had held her down and tried to kiss her. Later, we also learn that Eleanor had a girlfriend at the time, but the girlfriend was so freaked out by the rumor that she broke up with Eleanor out of fear people would think they were both predators.
Teenage couples have sex (this is mostly offscreen but in one sequence, a boy goes under the covers while a girl pretends to enjoy what he is doing). We see these same couples pre- and post-coital. Couples (including same-sex couples) make out with and grope each other.
Teens dance provocatively. Many teen girls wear revealing outfits. Sometimes we see them (and their male counterparts) in underwear or swimsuits. We see a girl in a bath from the shoulders up.
There are references to masturbation. There are crude references to male and female genitals. People affirm alternative gender identification.
A girl is forced by her friend to wear a swimsuit even though she is visibly uncomfortable showing so much skin. A boy makes out with his new girlfriend in front of his ex-girlfriend to be cruel. A nude painting hangs in Eleanor’s room. Drea tells Eleanor that if she walks past a guy looking “vaguely slutty,” he’ll notice her. And when Eleanor later tries it, several boys ogle her. Someone jokes about having an orgy. Someone makes a crude joke about tampons. We hear that when a girl’s request for Rosehill to go vegan was denied, she put a full menstrual cup in the school cafeteria.
[Spoiler Warning] We learn Max cheated on a couple of his girlfriends with multiple girls at their school. When he’s exposed, his current partner pretends they have an open relationship to avoid embarrassment. (And several girls and guys get excited that they may have a shot with Max.)
Drea punches Max in the face when she suspects he leaked her video. We see her icing her hand later on, and her headmaster says the way she handled it left much to be desired. (In a later scene, she slaps him when he is rude to her.)
Someone purposely rams another person’s car (with them in it) with their own car.
When a girl suspects a home intruder, she arms herself with her house keys in her fist. A girl throws a picture at a wall, breaking it. Another girl gets hit in the hand with a tennis ball. Drea throws Eleanor’s phone on the ground in anger. A teacher uses a fire extinguisher on a trash can after a girl sets it on fire.
We hear a girl talk of lighting another person’s hair on fire, prompting her friends to ask why her first instinct is always violent. There are a few jokes about murder.
We hear more than 50 uses of the f-word, about 25 uses of the s-word and two uses of the c-word. We also hear multiple uses of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch” (which is also written on someone’s license plate), “d–n,” “d–k” and “h—.” Some of these words appear in background songs and one of these songs has characters singing along. There are crude references to male and female genitals. People call each other rude names, including “slut.” Someone makes a crude hand gesture. God’s name is abused more than 20 times (including three times that it’s paired with “d–n”).
Teenagers (including the story’s heroines) drink and use drugs (namely marijuana, cocaine and ketamine) at parties throughout the film.
A teen girl is arrested after getting framed for cocaine possession. Later, we hear the experience caused her to lose her college scholarship and develop an actual cocaine problem, resulting in her getting sent to rehab. (Someone also threatens to plant drugs on Drea’s mom to get her fired.)
Another teen girl is framed for drugging her entire class with mushrooms. While the real culprit eventually comes clean, the girl did still grow the mushrooms and marijuana on school property, leading to her expulsion, arrest and stint in rehab.
“As you well know,” Eleanor says, “rumors are not harmless little comments. Somebody says something in person, someone repeats it online, and then it just grows and grows and grows until it follows you wherever you are.”
We see how a rumor really hurt Eleanor. She stopped eating and sleeping. Her parents were so desperate, they sent her to a treatment center. She changed her name and underwent plastic surgery to change her appearance (we hear another insecure teen girl had plastic surgery as well). And years after the fact, her anger continued to fester and boil.
Even after putting her revenge plot into motion, Eleanor remained angry. And the same went for Drea. But rather than realize they just need to forgive and let go, they push all the harder to ruin the lives of the people they hate. That’s because they honestly believe that they won’t feel better unless those people are as miserable as they are.
Eleanor, not convinced her bully has learned her lesson, pushes the girl to a breaking point. And while she eventually backs down, her actions up to that point—by her own admission—are a bit psychotic.
Drea isn’t any better. She focuses so much energy on ruining Max’s life that her grades slip, and she gets rejected from Yale. She also nearly loses the friends she does have. But rather than stop and focus on school and her relationships, she decides to take it a step further and destroy all of her former friends for taking Max’s side.
Because she is the daughter of a single mother, Drea’s classmates sometimes mock her for not having as much money as them. They act entitled and privileged. Both Drea and her headmaster note that expectations and consequences are different for her because of her family’s low income. But rather than rise above, Drea sinks to their levels. She becomes a narcissist. She acts entitled and privileged and just finds other ways to make fun of her fellow students.
Max is also a narcissist. When Drea’s video is leaked, he plays the victim, claiming his privacy was violated. He forms a student justice league under the guise of protecting other girls from experiencing what Drea did. But really, he continues to solicit photos and videos from girls and is unapologetic when those get leaked as well. (Some of Drea’s friends also exhibit narcissistic behavior, making other people’s tragedies about themselves.)
Drea berates people (sometimes unjustifiably) for putting down a “woman of color.” We hear a student production of Hamilton was shut down by Lin-Manuel Miranda (the creator of Hamilton) because of its mostly white cast.
Teenagers throw multiple parties without adult supervision (and illicit activities happen at said parties). Two kids ditch school.
We hear a girl vomiting offscreen.
[Spoiler Warning] Drea learns Max was manipulating her the entire course of their relationship. He wanted to ruin her life because she was too much like him: using people to get whatever she wants. He didn’t want to become a pawn in her schemes. So, he lied about loving her to convince her to send him an explicit video so he could then leak that video.
First off, Do Revenge is predicated on a very real issue: teen girls being targeted and then publically condemned for sexually explicit behavior.
“For girls,” Drea says, “our bodies, our choices, our thoughts are all policed by shame. Our weaknesses are [men’s] strengths. If [men] have a lot of sex, they’re crushing it. If we do it, we’re sluts. If they’re angry, they’re powerful, but if we show any emotion, we’re hysterical!”
Drea and dozens of other girls at Rosehill are humiliated when their private messages and photos are exposed to the student body. But rather than search for the person or persons responsible for this exploitation, many people choose to focus on shaming the girls instead.
To add insult to injury, the boy on the receiving end of these messages isn’t criticized for his lewd behavior (which includes cheating on his girlfriend) but celebrated for having an “open relationship” and not being tied down by society’s standards.
Worse still, the girls can’t get mad about it. When Drea retaliates by punching Max in the face, she’s put on behavioral probation.
And Max? He gets off scot-free.
It’s incredibly sad, because Max is just as culpable as the girls. But he’s just not punished for it, since society has given him a pass, the movie suggests. And he uses that power to bolster himself even further, forming a “Cis Hetero Men Championing Female-Identifying Students League” to make it appear that he respects these girls while actually requesting more explicit photos and videos.
And that’s another problem: that kids are engaging in this type of behavior to begin with.
Throughout the film, teenagers curse, party, drink, use drugs, fight, make out (including same-sex couples) and—we hear—have sex.
Adults are nowhere to be seen. And when they do make an appearance to offer advice to a wayward teen, it’s not until after that teen has already come to some sort of self-actualizing conclusion.
Perhaps if these grown-ups had intervened, they could have stopped the nasty rumors and risqué behavior that led to Drea and Eleanor’s elaborate revenge schemes to begin with. Or at least they may have been able to help them see that getting even won’t alleviate the anger they feel.
So, here’s some advice that adults can offer to their teens before watching this film: Don’t Do Revenge.
Trying to get revenge on someone won’t magically make you feel better about whatever they did to you. And watching this Netflix film won’t make you feel better either.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.