Netflix’s Do Reign is a delicious mix of high school clique action with the classic Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train. It’s one of the most important films of the 21st Century.
Unimpeachable confidence is one of the most important ingredients in a great teen movie. Netflix’s Do Reign is a movie that is filled with goodness. It was directed by Jennifer Kaylin Robinson and stars Camila Mendes (Mendes) and Maya Hawke. Drea Torres (Mendes), the queen bee of Rosewell’s super-fancy private high school Rosewell, is introduced right away. Every image and dialogue we receive helps to create a unique, believable world. According to us, Camila, a scholarship student who works at the local tennis court for pocket money has spent a lot of time creating her current ‘it girls’ image.
“If you don’t know, my friends were born into this world, but I was more DIY. Don’t think that I care about status. Everyone cares about status. It was a dream that I had realized how to make a reality. This moment was the moment I felt I belonged. I spent 17 years carefully curating my perfect life. It was mine, and nobody could take it from me.”
Camila’s complacency is quickly shattered when she sends Max an explicit video of her to him (the ‘golden’ boy at Rosewell, who was born to wealthy, white, politically powerful parents). It gets leaked and forwarded to almost all Rosewell students. Her reputation is in disarray and her former friends, including Tara ( Alisha Boe), stop talking to her. After the break, she returns to school and finds that Max and Tara are now married. Max has also started a club called “The Cis Hetero Men Champions Female-Identifying Student League”. (The film is filled with gags like this, which poke fun at superficial, paper-thin social justice vocabulary appropriations).
Camila quickly realizes that revenge is on the horizon and she soon finds the right conduit in Eleanor Maya Hawke, a queer student transfer who has also suffered from public shame. Carissa, a Rosewell student had spread the rumor Eleanor made her suffer. Eleanor and Camila decide to take revenge on each other so they don’t have the consequences.
This is a modern, fun take on the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train. It was based on the 1950 Patricia Highsmith novel. Two men attempt to solve their problems by murdering each other: one has an adulterous spouse, and the other is a domineering dad. Do Revenge is just the latest of a long list of TV and film shows that are inspired by this classic Hitchcock movie.
However, it is its own beast in style and presentation as well as the whip-smart dialog. Drea and Eleanor discuss their goals. Drea comments that Eleanor has the harder task of achieving them. Drea is shopping for new clothes for Eleanor while the conversation takes place in a shop.
It’s easier to kill a girl than it is to make her miserable, honey. You can choose to slap her, make her jealous, turn her friends against you, prey upon her vanity, turn your girl into a troll or exploit her darkest secrets. You can make her radioactive, and nobody will help her. (…) But that’s another story. Shame controls our bodies, choices, and thoughts. Their weaknesses are their strengths. They’re strong if they do a lot of sex. We’re sluts if we do it. They’re powerful when they’re angry, but they’re weak when we show emotion span.
Drea is asked by the attendant to use “indoor voice” at the end of the line. This is a great way to both end the conversation and proves Drea’s point. Do Revenge’s already-kinetic action is elevated by such deft touches. It is also quite poignant and filled with unironic sincerity at points. Drea tells Eleanor dissociation is second nature to her in the scene when she tells her. “I’ve always been a chameleon my whole life.” Sometimes, you need to pretend to be someone else to get the results you desire .”
The Hitchcock Factor
Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is hard to overstate. The film is a masterpiece in terms of themes, performances, and visual style. It inspired many Hollywood filmmakers. Roger Ebert, an iconic critic of the film, wrote this essay:
“Hitchcock was a master of visual set pieces and Strangers on a Train contains many famous sequences. The best-known sequence is that where Guy scans the crowd during a tennis match and notices that all heads are moving back and forth to follow it — except one head, Bruno’s which is looking directly at Guy. The same technique was used in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, where all windmills are pointing in the same direction. Another scene that works well is Guy floating through the Tunnel of Love in a small boat. Miriam, her two boyfriends, and Bruno are all in the boat in front. Shadows on the wall give it the appearance that Bruno has taken over.
Sabrina Barton’s 1991 essay “Crisscross” (published in Camera Obscura) describes how homosexual attraction and “the double” were influenced by Hitchcock in his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. Highsmith was a lesbian, who was often in love with straight women. This unreported homosexual attraction was the inspiration for many of her works like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Barton writes.
“When Bruno, speaking out for Guy’s freedom from Miriam and proposes to him over lamb chops that they “swap Murders”. . . “criss-cross” (the deal was that Bruno would murder Guy’s blackmailing, lower-class wife in exchange for Guy murdering Bruno’s domineering father), Bruno proposes to narrativize the symmetrical relationship between the men textually inscribed in the opening crosscutting (“crisscross”) Bruno’s exclamation at their first encounter, “I like your-I’d love anything for you!” accentuates the homosexual valence this symmetry. Guy’s tennis doubles, Guy’s joke about “bigamy”, Bruno’s drink order (“scotch & plain water: a couple-doubles”), Guy’s joke about Guy, and Guy’s lighter. All of these doubling motifs reinforce the linkage between the men. Guy Haines invites us to read Bruno Anthony’s double.
Do Revenge puts the idea of the main characters as doubles, either complementary individuals or doppelgangers, front, and center. Drea is Hispanic and Eleanor is white. Drea has a straight personality while Eleanor has a gay personality. Drea is selfish while Eleanor values compassion. Their clothes are chosen thematically to be ‘opposites’. Eleanor is often seen dressed in girly clothes to show the contrast between Eleanor’s more practical and masculine-coded” denim dungarees.
Danny DeVito directed Throw Momma from the Train in 1987. The film was an acclaimed black comedy that featured DeVito alongside Anne Ramsey and Billy Crystal. This story was loosely based on Strangers on a Train and filtered through Crystal’s comic talents. An episode of Castle’s second season, called “The Double Down”, is a more faithful portrayal of Hitchcock’s and Highsmith’s story. The ‘double’ was also evident in this episode: one man is white and the other black, while one works as a white-collar worker, while the other struggles to make ends meet. One of the victims even had a connection to the theme of the double. She is a couple’s therapist.
It is important to remember that Hitchcock’s and Highsmith’s main characters are mature, middle-aged men who have settled in their lives. Do Revenge’s main characters are 17-year-olds who still have much to learn and live. It was important that both Drea (and Eleanor) had plenty of time to think things through, take a step back, and reevaluate their intentions.
Luckily, Do Revenge gets this and most other aspects of the Hitchcock inspiration absolutely right. This teen movie is powered by the blockbuster performances of Camila Mendes (whose second-half heel turn was downright chilling) and Maya Hawke. It’s an ambitious film that doesn’t lose its sense of fun and is hyper-aware without being too hard. It’s one of the best Netflix movies of all time and there’s a good chance they’ll release a sequel.
Aditya Jha, a Delhi-based journalist, and independent writer is currently writing a book of essays about Indian comics.