Linda Cook review: ‘Promising Young Woman’ is dark tale of vengeance

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Disturbing, sometimes darkly comic and always whip-smart, “Promising Young Woman” is a revenge thriller that stays with you.

Carey Mulligan stars in this grownups-only material that starts out with a startling revelation and ends with a finale that may leave you gasping.

The first time the audience sees Cassie, she appears to be alone and quite inebriated in a bar. A man with questionable intentions takes her home, then discovers she’s really quite sober and her drunkenness is a convincing act.

When we see Cassie make hash marks in a notebook, we realize this is a sort of calling for her, but we don’t understand why. Her loving but mystified parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) are concerned about their mostly non-communicative daughter who works as a barista, a career they had not envisioned for her.

One day, her former medical-school classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham, “The Big Sick”) comes to the coffee shop. After an extraordinarily awkward reacquaintance conversation, they strike up a tentative friendship … and then a little more.

Unbeknownst to Ryan, Cassie continues her nocturnal “adventures.”

She also continues to reunite with people from her past (a most welcome Christopher Mintz-Plasse, incidentally, is one of the self-proclaimed “nice guys” she encounters.)

Mulligan is superb as a driven character who’s starring, so to speak, in a performance that’s a means to an end. Her just-under-the-surface fury is palpable in every scene.

Screenwriter/director Emerald Fennell, a performer herself who stars in “The Crown,” has delivered an intelligent, thought-provoking film that’s deftly directed and always keeps viewers guessing … and uncomfortable.

You’re likely to be talking about this film, which is on the “best of” lists for so many cinephiles (including me), for some time.  

4 out of 4 stars

Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations and violence.

Running time: One hour and 53 minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport, and Palms 10, Muscatine.

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