‘Promising Young Woman’ writer-director Emerald Fennell on the film’s ‘frightening’ underbelly [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Emerald Fennell came out of the gate swinging with her feature directorial debut, “Promising Young Woman.” Exploring sexual assault, trauma and revenge through a candy-colored lens, Fennell crafted a film with real darkness hidden underneath. This was entirely intentional, according to the writer-director, considering Cassie (Carey Mulligan), the film’s protagonist, is concealing her own personal trauma. “This incredibly alluring cover is really hiding something much more complicated and frightening,” says Fennell in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. Watch the full interview above.

Cassie goes down a dark path over the course of “Promising Young Woman,” seeking vengeance for her best friend who was raped while they were in med school together. She intentionally dresses and acts a certain way to manipulate a situation, not unlike the film’s pop sensibility that covers for a far darker core. “So much a part of Cassie is how she is able to weaponize these things that are feminine, that she’s able to weaponize her nail color and her hair and her prettiness and her clothes,” explains Fennell. People like Cassie who have been through horrifying events “become ingenious at hiding,” states the director, and in turn, “this film is a film that is also hiding.” Fennell references films like “To Die For” and “American Psycho” as having a similar heightened approach.

Along those lines, “Promising Young Woman” also explores the “nice guy” trope, the guy who seems likable on the surface but is secretly harboring ulterior motives and entitlement towards women. Towards the end of the film, Cassie sees how even the nicest of guys can be revealed as complicit in a toxic culture that favors men over women. “There’s something so frightening, I think, for all of us when we realize that something that we laughed at in the past was horrific,” admits Fennell. Yet, it was important to the writer-director to also explore how it’s not just men who uphold these values — women like Dean Walker (Connie Britton), who had dismissed the accusations, are responsible for it, too. “This is not just a gender problem, this is a societal problem,” observes Fennell.

The ending of the film has been the subject of great debate since its release at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Rather than give the audience a standard ending you’d expect for a story like this, “Promising Young Woman” goes in a far more disturbing and divisive direction. But for Fennell, crafting the ending was all about asking herself, “What feels honest? What feels likely, not just to this character but in the world?” While she admits that not everyone is obliged to like the film’s conclusion, it was admittedly, “The only ending for me that made any sense.”

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