The idea for Emerald Fennell’s debut movie Promising Young Woman came to her in a single image: while a seemingly drunk woman is being bothered by a man, she turns the tables by suddenly sitting up, stone-cold sober, and asking, “What are you doing?” This happens quite a few times in her film, which sees college dropout Cassie (Carey Mulligan) taking revenge on the kind of men that sexually abused her best friend in college, leading to her suicide.
It sounds like a vigilante movie, but Fennell’s movie is much more subtle. And funny, too. Speaking during Deadline’s Contenders Film awards-season event, Fennell says, “I was very lucky to have the brilliant Carey, who is just so much the backbone of this film, and who makes the tonal changes and the baroque look of the film feel more grounded. Really, for me, it’s a movie about appearances being deceptive. And so, it was important that the movie was as deceptive to look at, and sound and feel, as deceptive as Cassie herself is.”
It was that unpredictability that proved irresistible to Mulligan too, she says.
“I hadn’t read anything like it,” Mulligan says. “I didn’t know where it was going. It was so surprising. I loved the blend of genres. But, more than that, it just felt very real to me, and that’s what sets it apart, in that every action that my character takes has a genuine consequence. There’s no fantasy in what she’s doing. So, it’s always felt very grounded in truth for me. It does manage to blend a thriller aspect, romantic comedy, and horror, but at the heart of it, all of these characters feel very real.”
Check out the panel video above.