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Film / Promising Young Woman

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"I said, 'What are you doing?'"

Al Monroe: I mean, it's every guy's worst nightmare, getting accused like that!
Cassie Thomas: Can you guess what every woman's worst nightmare is?

Promising Young Woman is a 2020 black comedy-drama film written and directed by Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve) in her feature directorial debut, co-produced by Margot Robbie, and starring Carey Mulligan. Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, and Connie Britton also star.

Cassandra "Cassie" Thomas (Mulligan) is the eponymous promising young woman. Once on track to become a doctor, she dropped out of medical school following her best friend's suicide, and now commits herself to acting drunk in clubs and bars to teach a lesson to the would-be rapists that unsuspectingly take her home.

However, when Cassie unexpectedly meets a face from her past in former classmate Ryan (Burnham), her plans for revenge get thrown off course and she is forced to face what led to her dropping out of med school in the first place.

Following its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the film was initially set to be released on April 17, 2020, but was pulled from the release schedule as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. It was ultimately released on December 25, 2020.

Tropes that appear in Promising Young Woman:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: There were several people present at Nina's rape who didn't do anything to stop it, and Ryan is revealed to be one of them. When Cassie brings this up to him, he bristles at the idea of his involvement being outed, and complains that he "didn't even do anything" — which is exactly her point.
  • Actor Allusion: At her meeting with the dean, Cassie says her name is Daisy. She also comments on the dean's daughter being a Brainless Beauty, sarcastically noting that brains "never did a girl any good", reminiscent of Daisy saying that she hopes for her daughter to be a "beautiful little fool".
  • Affably Evil:
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Played with. When Cassie shows up to Ryan's work and reveals that she's ready to publicly share the video of Nina's rape, with him in it as a bystander, he's rattled to his core. He tries pleading with her several times, says he can't live with her threat hanging over his head, insists that he's not a bad person and that he loves her, and implores her to say she forgives him. (He notably doesn't outright apologize once.) When she refuses and it's clear his begging won't work, Ryan switches his tone, accusing her of acting holier-than-thou and calling her a "fucking failure".
  • Alliterative Name: Madison McPhee.
  • All Men Are Perverts: There's barely a single innocent male character in the film. They're all either rapists, would-be rapists, or enablers of rapists. The most sympathetic male characters we're given are Cassie's father Stanley and an atoner in the form of Jordan Green.
  • All There in the Script: One of the three men in the opening is named Jim; he’s not named in the film but his name is in the script and credits.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Despite his ranting about having sex with women, Joe is extremely attached to his best friend Al, kissing him on the cheek and immediately jumping to help him after he murders Cassie. He also can't think of one nice thing to say about Al's wife, Anastasia, at their wedding, implying jealousy. This would also make him a Depraved Homosexual, as it's him who helps cover up Cassie's murder. Not to mention, the moment where he helps Al dispose of Cassie has "Something Wonderful" playing, a song all about pleasing the man you love no matter what.
  • Ambiguous Situation: A few:
    • Was Madison actually raped? Cassie says point blank that she wasn't, and in fact supervised the man who put her to bed to ensure this wasn't the case. However, this is not shown to the audience, and we only have Cassie's word to go on.
    • The handcuffs Cassie uses on Al. Were they actually ones from a sex shop? If so, it makes sense that Al could slip out of one pair to defend himself against Cassie. On the other hand, he absolutely cannot break out of the second pair, and ends up having to sleep next to her corpse until Joe releases him. Cassie doesn't seem to be the type to make this kind of mistake, and instead possibly altered real handcuffs to appear like sexy ones, but her alterations may have negated one pair's effectiveness.
  • Amoral Attorney: Deconstructed. Jordan was once a defense attorney who specialized in defending accused rapists, using any means necessary, and he bullied Cassie's friend Nina to drop her complaint. He openly admits to getting off hundreds, and being rewarded for doing so, but he later had a revelation about how terrible this was and became wracked with guilt that he lived with every day. His genuine display of remorse surprises Cassie and gets her to genuinely forgive him, and he further atones by giving her invaluable help in executing her plan.
  • Anti-Hero: Cassie. She's trying to bring her friend's rapist to justice, but in pursuit of this she's more than willing to commit plenty of manipulative and dangerous actions, such as intimidating the men she picks up, damaging someone's car, tricking Madison into thinking she was raped whilst unconscious, kidnapping the Dean's daughter, drugging the entire bachelor party, and attempting to carve Nina's name into Al's body.
  • The Atoner: Jordan Greene deeply regrets his actions as an Amoral Attorney, and his guilt motivates him to help Cassandra in her quest for revenge.
  • Attempted Rape: All the men who pick up Cassandra when she pretends to be near-blackout drunk; once they actually try to engage in the act, she drops the act to teach them a lesson.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Subverted. Al kills Cassandra and Joe helps him cover it up, but Cassandra turns the tables on him from beyond the grave by releasing the rape video and having him arrested for her murder.
  • Basement Dweller:
    • Paul, one of the creeps from the opening scene, who has to check to see if his parents are home before bringing a drunk girl home with him.
    • Although she doesn't literally live in a basement (she lives in her childhood bedroom), Cassie's mother especially isn't happy to have her living at home and keeps trying to convince her to move out, telling her (on her birthday) that it's embarrassing for her.
  • Berserk Button: People making excuses about what happened, in particular saying that they were "kids", is implied to be one for Cassandra. It's pretty much one of the reasons why she doesn't forgive Ryan and tries to carve Nina’s name onto Al’s body (she was probably going to do that anyways, but it was still a deciding factor).
  • Big Bad: Alex Monroe, being Nina's rapist and the one responsible for both her and Cassie dropping out of med school, with Nina going on a downward spiral and ultimately killing herself. This is what inspired Cassie's vigilante crusade. Upon learning Alex is getting married, Cassie plots revenge against those involved in Nina's assault and getting it dismissed. Alex ultimately kills Cassie when confronted, though it turns out Cassie had the tape of Nina's assault sent to Jordan Green, as well as prepared to have Alex linked to her possible disappearanced. This leads to Alex's crimes being exposed as he's arrested at his wedding.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Cassie’s Satellite Love Interest Ryan initially seems like a genuine nice guy, until Madison gives Cassie the video of Nina’s rape, where Ryan is present. He begs Cassie not to reveal it to save his career as a pediatric surgeon, claiming to love her and be sorry, but drops that act and calls her a failure when she refuses. He later lies to the police about her last known location to exonerate himself and attends Al’s wedding despite having reason to believe he killed her.
    • The opening scene features three men at a club where Cassie is pretending to be intoxicated. Two of them come across as huge misogynistic jerks who constantly make derogatory remarks about her. The third, Jerry, seems decent and acts genuinely worried about her. Guess which one tries to rape her?
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cassandra is murdered during her quest for vengeance, but the tape of Nina’s assault is released and Al is arrested for her murder, so she at least died knowing her ultimate goal will be fulfilled and Nina will get justice.
  • Blaming the Victim: Dean Walker and Madison both tell Cassie that Nina shouldn't have expected anything less than "what happened" (her rape) when she went into Al's college room drunk.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Subverted. This is how Cassie's parents and peers view her, as she has absolutely no intention of pursing any type of career path, despite her intelligence, and appears content to work a dead-end barista job. However, Cassie is anything but lazy — she just doesn't have career ambitions, preferring to focus her efforts on getting justice for Nina.
  • Broken Bird:
    • Nina after she’s raped in med school. With Madison and her other friends (except Cassie) giving her No Sympathy for it, and her rapist getting off scot-free, she’s never able to recover, even with Cassie dropping out to take care of her, and is tragically Driven to Suicide.
    • Cassandra after Nina's fate. In the present day, she’s a 30-year-old woman who still lives with her parents and has no friends besides Gail, with the only thing driving her being her dangerous and self-destructive coping mechanism of pretending to be drunk at shady nightclubs every week so would-be rapists pick her up and she can “save” future women from what befell Nina.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday:
    • Even though she ruined Nina's life, played a role in driving her to suicide, and ruined Cassie's life in the process, Dean Walker doesn't seem to be lying when she claims not to remember Nina or her accusation of rape (she can't even remember when Cassie bluffs about her daughter), because it's something she processes (and mishandles) every single week.
    • According to Bo Burnham, Ryan genuinely didn’t remember his involvement in the rape until Cassie shows him the video of it.
    • Subverted by the lawyer, Jordan. Cassie clearly expects him not to remember her or Nina, because there were so many cases like hers. She is extremely surprised when he does remember her and begs for her forgiveness, and actually grants it.
      "I'll never forgive myself. I want you to know that. I'll never forgive myself for any of this."
  • But Liquor Is Quicker:
    • How Al and his friends raped Nina in med school: she was so drunk she had no idea what was going on.
    • Madison thinks this happened to her, but really Cassandra only set it up to seem like she’d been raped. (Maybe.)
  • Bystander Syndrome: There were multiple people present at Nina's rape who didn't step up while it happened or during the subsequent case, including Ryan. (Cassie even remarks that Ryan wants to view himself as an "innocent bystander" instead of an Accomplice by Inaction.) There's also damning video evidence that was shared around to even more people, but no one brought it forward for years. Madison only does so after Cassie makes her think she was raped.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Madison gets plastered at the restaurant, which Cassie uses as an opportunity to make her think she had been raped by a man who only helps her get to bed.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Cassie avenges herself and Nina by releasing the video of Al raping Nina which she had set up to be released after her death.
  • Carved Mark: Cassie's plan is to symbolically mutilate Nina's rapist by carving Nina's name onto his torso.
  • The Cassandra: It's thematically appropriate that the name of this film's protagonist calls back to the myth of a woman cursed to always know the truth, but never be believed. Truth in Television, as women are rarely believed when they speak up about being sexually assaulted, their word holding next to no weight when put up against the word of the men they accuse (which, in turn, keeps many victims from coming forward).
  • Casting Gag: Most of the younger male actors in the film — Bo Burnham, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell and Max Greenfield — have made careers out of playing affable, slightly goofy, and actually-nice nice guys. The film flips it by casting them as guys who turn out to not be as nice as they think they are.
  • Central Theme:
    • Rape culture, and the impact of it on women's lives, the way both men and women contribute and are affected by it, how the systems in place perpetuate it, etc.
    • Forgiveness has been said by the director to be a big theme of the movie. Forgiveness is possible, but it must be attained, and one must recognize their own doings to achieve it. Jordan achieves it when he becomes deeply regretful for what he has done, whereas other characters deny their participations in Nina's death and assault and try to justify guilt away from their actions.
  • Chained to a Bed: Cassandra dresses as a stripper to fool Al into letting himself be handcuffed to the bed so she can gain the upper hand in their final confrontation.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jordan. He is the Token Good Teammate of the people on whom Cassie takes revenge, as the only person who feels genuine remorse for what he did and begs Cassie for forgiveness. As a result, she trusts him enough to send him her last letter before going to the bachelor party, knowing he'll take it to the police.
  • The Chessmaster: Cassie is utterly (and arguably disturbingly) brilliant at planning karmic traps for those responsible for Nina's humiliation, and male predators in general. Whatever her peers and parents may think about her being a jaded washout, she is without a doubt a devious mastermind who's own murder doesn't really get in her way.
  • Construction Catcalls: When Cassie is doing a walk of shame through a bad neighborhood, three hardhat workers at a scrapyard start giving her wolf whistles and yelling suggestive comments. Without saying a word, Cassie cows them with the world's politest Death Glare and they slink away.
  • Creator Cameo: Emerald Fennell plays the influencer who advises on how to make "blowjob lips."
  • Daddy's Girl: Cassie seems to have a much closer bond with her father, who compliments her when she's getting dressed to go out and is very affectionate with her in general.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: We get one of Cassie's greyed hand as her body is being cremated.
  • Dead Man Writing: Cassie posthumously sends scheduled texts to Ryan when the police show up ready to arrest Al.
    You didn't think this was the end, did you?
    It is now.
    Enjoy the wedding!
    Love, Cassie & Nina
  • Death Glare: When Cassie is doing a walk of shame home through a bad neighbourhood, three workers at a scrapyard start giving her wolf whistles and yelling suggestive comments. Cassie stops, turns around and just stares at them, a faint smile on her lips. Gradually the catcalls slow, and then stop, and the three workmen just slink away.
  • Deus ex Machina: The video of Nina's rape, which shows up to kick off the final act just when it looks like the story is over. Madison, the one who gives it to Cassie, even lampshades that there's no reason for her to have it and she doesn't know why she's kept it for all those years.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Al cries like a baby when he realizes Cassie has trapped him, while smothering her to death and while having Joe help him cover it up, but had no qualms about raping Nina in med school, even after she kills herself.
    • Joe is happy to help Al dispose of Cassie's body and deal with the emotional aftermath of killing her, but he doesn't hesitate to run from the sound of police sirens at the wedding.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Discussed by Joe, who talks about the '90s cliche of "bachelor party goes awry and the sex worker dies" after finding Al next to Cassie's corpse.
  • The Ditz: Dean Walker's daughter, who falls for Cassie's story hook, line and sinker and is left sitting in a diner convinced that her favorite boy band is going to show up to shoot a music video. Even Cassie, who is generally sympathetic to other women, tells Dean Walker that it's a good thing that the girl is pretty because she isn't very smart.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: The film offers a pretty brutal takedown of the "nice guy", especially when it comes to that type's complacency in rape culture. Cassie's MO is to pretend to be inebriated and lure men to pick her up and try to take advantage of her, only to reveal she's sober and that the supposed "nice guys" aren't as nice as they claim to be. One of them, Neil, even makes the verbatim argument of "I'm a nice guy!" to try to justify himself. Out of this film's examples, two stand out:
    • Alex Monroe seems to be an otherwise stand-up guy, surrounded by friends and loved ones and having a successful career as a doctor. When he appears in person, he doesn't seem like that bad of a guy; by all accounts, he loves his fiancé, and he tries to act gentlemanly to Cassie under the impression she's a stripper hired for his bachelor party. This is all despite the fact he was Nina's rapist, and responsible for her and Cassie's downward spiral. When confronted over this, he is quick to deny any of it is his fault, before suffocating Cassie and casting the blame on her.
    • Ryan Cooper appears throughout the movie as a typical love interest who wouldn't be out of place in a romantic comedy, coming off as charming, funny, and caring. This is before it's revealed he was a witness to Nina's rape, and laughed about it with the rest of Alex's friends. Rather than show any remorse, Ryan stresses exclusively over how the revelation of that information would affect his career and begs for Cassie's forgiveness without even apologizing, before bitterly calling her a failure when she rejects him.
  • Downfall by Sex: Al Monroe subverts this in med school when Dean Walker and the other authorities believe his side of the story over Nina’s, but Cassandra becomes hellbent on making him pay for it before his wedding.
  • Driven to Suicide: Cassandra's best friend Nina killed herself after she was raped in med school.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Al raped a girl years ago, but he's apparently head over heels for his fiancée, and while we never get a close look at their dynamic, there's nothing to suggest his feelings for her aren't genuine, or that he's pulled any shady business on her like he did with Nina.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Tying in with his love for his fiancée, Al immediately complains about a stripper coming to his bachelor party, noting his wife wouldn't want it. He also tells Cassie no when she proposes going upstairs with him, only agreeing when she says it's the only way she gets paid. Granted, these standards can be questioned, as he still allows her to stay and perform, and reluctantly accepts her offer. Al's clearly succumbing to peer pressure, but whether he's just weak-willed or secretly enjoying the situation is up in the air.
    • Al never shows genuine regret for his actions against Nina, but he's clearly disgusted over his murder of Cassie. And unlike the earlier crime, this seems to be more than just a fear of being caught, as Al has to be convinced by Joe that it wasn't his fault and is still noticeably shaken around the body afterwards.
    • Neil (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) clearly has no problem fooling around with a woman who's blackout drunk, but he won't do anything to an unconscious body. Of course, he's also perfectly willing to wake Cassie up so that he can continue his lechery, and his encounter still reeks of Questionable Consent, which lands him here.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Cassie gets her revenge paying evil unto evil, and it's never made 100% sure just how far she's willing to go in that regard. But it's clear that while she'll make Madison believe she's been raped and Dean Walker think her daughter is undergoing the very same thing, she never actually lets anyone suffer the same fate as Nina, only tricking them into thinking it is or did happen.
    • Even Alex and Ryan seem put off by Joe. When Cassie confronts Alex, using the name Nina Fischer, Alex thinks it's some sort of sick joke by Joe. Ryan also seems annoyed at a perverted remark that Joe makes at Alex's wedding.
  • Fanboy: Neil gushes to Cassie about David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster and how it changed his life.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • Cassie's is her disregard for her own safety. Motivated by guilt for failing to protect Nina, Cassie makes it a point to place herself in dangerous situations that can easily go very wrong for her, such as attempting to bait rapists into assaulting her, blackmail, vandalism, and at the end, physical assault. The lattermost proves to be her undoing when she underestimates just how strong Al can be when armed with desperation and adrenaline, costing her life.
    • Ryan is unable to take responsibility for his own actions. He was present at Nina's rape, but tries to shift responsibility away from himself by claiming he was too drunk to remember what happened, that Nina put herself in the situation, and that Cassie is in the wrong for pushing the issue. This weakness costs him his relationship with Cassie, and it's implied at the end that his career and reputation are bound to go down the drain when the tape showing his passive role in Nina's rape gets out.
  • Female Misogynist: Madison and Dean Walker both play this fully straight, blaming Nina for what happened to her and excusing the male rapists' actions until they or someone they love is personally threatened by it. Though it's implied that after their interaction with Cassie, they've mended their ways.
  • Forceful Kiss: Jerry has a completely one-sided kiss with Cassandra in the opening scene right before he attempts to rape her.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Al's bachelor party flyer mentions that the party will be "Al Monroe's last night as a free man!" During the wedding, he is arrested for murdering Cassie.
    • For some viewers, Cassie going on a walk with Ryan only to "accidentally" wind up in front of his house raised red flags. Cassie, after all, had already said that she wasn't interested in a relationship, so Ryan taking her to his home seemed subtly like it was pressuring Cassie and testing her boundaries. When seeing those red flags, it comes as much less of a surprise to learn later that he was a complicit witness in Nina's rape.
  • The Ghost: Nina. Characters watch the video of her rape but it's never shown to the audience, and the photograph of her and Cassie is out of focus.
  • Girlboss Feminist: Dean Walker is the dean of Cassie and Nina's former college. Despite maintaining a reputation for apparent transparency, Walker refused to take any action against Nina's rapist Al. When Cassie confronts her over this, Walker points out that the evidence was shaky and she saw no reason to ruin a young man's career. Cassie appears to accept this, agreeing that it makes sense, before revealing that she's kidnapped the dean's daughter. Dean Walker's ostensible fairness immediately cracks, proving that she was fine with abandoning Nina (and contributing to Nina's suicide), but her own daughter is a different story.
  • Graceful Loser: Downplayed; Al is clearly far from happy about it, but he puts up no verbal or physical resistance when arrested at his wedding.
  • Hate Sink: Among this film's deconstructions, one of which is that of the Nice Guy, especially in compliance to rape culture.
    • Alex Monroe was a popular and beloved med student at Cassie and Nina’s college, so much so that when he raped a drunk Nina, he did it in front of a group of cheering friends at a party and the school did nothing about it. While Nina and Cassie’s lives went down a spiral, with Nina killing herself, Alex would go on to be a successful doctor surrounded by friends and family, and get engaged to a loving fiance. When a vengeful Cassie confronts Alex, he whines that it wasn't his fault, that he and Nina were "kids" and everyone at the party was drunk, that she was actually into it, and that he was also a victim of the situation since being accused of rape is every man’s worst nightmare. When he later overpowers and kills Cassie, his only concern is how the incident will ruin his life. Luckily, due to a Thanatos Gambit by Cassie, both his murder of her and his rape of Nina are exposed as he’s arrested at his wedding.
    • Ryan Cooper spends much of the movie presenting himself as a genuinely loving boyfriend and successful doctor, and his relationship with Cassie helps her heal her from her trauma. This makes it heartbreaking for Cassie when she discovers Ryan was a witness to Nina’s rape, laughing as it occurred. When Cassie confronts Ryan, he only cares about his reputation possibly being ruined, and tries love-bombing Cassie before telling her to forgive him. When she refuses, Ryan accuses Cassie of being self-righteous and calls her a failure. When Cassie goes missing, he lies about her being mentally disturbed before attending Alex's wedding. When Al is arrested, it’s implied that Ryan’s involvement will soon be exposed.
    • Joey, a friend of Alex and Ryan's, has none of their seemingly charming qualities, instead being openly skeevy and sexist, with a sick sense of humour that puts even Alex off. He had a hand in Nina’s rape, filming the incident in front of the cheering and jeering of their friends. Attending Alex’s bachelor party, when Alex kills Cassie, Joey coddles Alex by saying it’s not his fault before helping dispose of Cassie’s body in the woods. Despite his claims of friendship and loyalty, when the police arrive at the wedding to arrest Alex, Joey is seen trying to run away, leaving him to deal with the fallout.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Madison eventually realizes how morally bankrupt she acted and reveals to Cassandra that there was a video taped of Al assaulting Nina to help her get justice. However, she refuses to help beyond that due to her anger at Cassie for making her believe she had been raped and even tells her to never contact her again.
  • Heel Realization: Jordan Greene, an attorney who got many accused rapists off, had an epiphany when he realized just how wrong this was and is now a guilty wreck. Madison has one when she finds the video; since she’s currently in a similar position to Nina she’s able to see more clearly why her justifications were wrong.
  • I Have Your Wife: Played with. Cassie abducts Dean Walker's daughter and tells her that she has left her in the same dorm room where Nina was raped, adding that she is certain that the boys who currently reside there will undoubtedly realize that she is underage and treat her with all the respect that Al Monroe showed Nina. An increasingly desperate Walker demands to know the room number, only for Cassie to say that if she had investigated Nina's case as thoroughly as she claimed then she would remember the number. However, Cassie then admits she was lying, and simply left the daughter waiting at a diner for a boy band who will never show up.
  • The Insomniac: Jordan Greene, the lawyer who got Al and countless other similar men out of rape accusations, says he has not been able to sleep ever since his Heel Realization.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Madison sees no reason to care about Nina's rape until she believes she herself might have been raped. She wasn't (at least, according to Cassie).
    • When Cassie confronts Ryan about him being one of the witnesses to Nina's rape, and laughing about it, Ryan shows far more concern about his career and reputation being on the line than remorse over being a bystander. He tries to tell Cassie he loves her, and tells her to forgive him without apologizing, instead trying to justify himself.
  • Jaded Washout: Cassie could have been a brilliant doctor but left it behind, although for very understandable reasons.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • With very few exceptions, Cassie is cold and rude to everyone around her, and some of her attempts at revenge are so twisted that it's hard to truly describe her as a good person even when her motives are very sympathetic. However, she also shows a gentler, more caring side at times and is devoted to getting justice for Nina. The heart of gold part of this trope starts to become stronger as the movie goes on, with Cassie starting to lighten up, becoming more affable and realizing that what she's doing isn't necessarily helpful or ethical. However, once the guy who got her to improve herself is outed as an onlooker to Nina's rape this development is destroyed and she indulges in an even more brutal manner of vengeance, though this time on the most guilty party of all.
    • She also offers true forgiveness to Jordan Greene, the lawyer who made sure Al wasn't prosecuted, after he shows himself to be the only person involved who actually regrets his actions. She was ready to have a hired goon come in to do something unspecified. She also still paid the goon despite not using his services.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty:
    • Madison thought nothing of laughing at Nina's rape video and bullying her until Cassie put her in the same position, although Cassie was lying — she made sure Madison wasn't hurt.
    • Al suffers no consequences for raping Nina with his friends in med school and even manages to kill Cassandra when she tries to avenge Nina. He finally gets what’s coming to him in the very last scene when the video of him raping Nina is sent to Jordan and he’s arrested for murdering Cassandra.
  • Meaningful Name: Cassandra is the name of the Trojan priestess who was given the gift of seeing the future but also cursed so that no one will believe her prophecies, just as no one believed Cassie that her friend Nina was raped.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Inverted. Cassandra deliberately sets us all the pieces to get Al charged with her potential murder, and as a bonus, tie it down to his past rape charges, which were settled off court. As such, there is absolutely no way he can get away with any of it this time, and because now the charge is murder, adding to it rape is a guaranteed way to set up the judge and jury against him.
  • Moody Trailer Cover Song: The trailer uses a remix of Britney Spears' "Toxic" by way of Psycho-esque strings; the rendition also appears in the film as Cassie walks up to the bachelor party. While the trailer version matches the original's fast tempo, the film version is far slower and creepier.
  • Moral Myopia: Dean Walker seems to see nothing wrong with ignoring Nina's complaint and continuing to support Al, but she viciously attacks Cassie (verbally) when she claims to have done the same to Walker's daughter.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Exploited. Cassie plays herself up as this to attract "nice guys", and she takes it up a notch late in the movie when she disguises herself as a stripper. However, it's Fan Disservice to the audience given we know she's luring would-be rapists, taking away any eroticism.
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Al Monroe and his friends don’t murder Nina after they rape her, but years later he murders Cassandra when she tries to mutilate him as revenge.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • The lawyer who represented Al in med school, Jordan Greene, describes having one such experience previously. He was an Amoral Attorney who would get guilty clients off for huge amounts of money, but then had what he describes as an "epiphany" (and what others described as a "psychotic break") about his actions. He was then put on sabbatical and lives his life wracked with guilt and fully expecting people to show up for justice.
    • Near the end of the film, Al is horrified with himself over his murder of Cassie, and even after Joe convinced himself that it wasn't his fault, his clear disgust over their disposal of Cassie's body can be interpreted as him still feeling guilt.
    • Madison also expresses remorse about her actions regarding Nina, asking how she could have thought the video was funny.
  • Naughty Nurse Outfit: Cassie wears a candy striper outfit while posing as a stripper for Al's bachelor party. More than fanservice, it is an intentionally tragic reference to how he and his friends ruined her and Nina's dreams of becoming doctors.
  • Never My Fault: Everyone keeps insisting that it's not their fault that Nina got drunk and committed suicide — even her rapist Al and Ryan, who was present during her rape and did nothing to stop it. Joe keeps telling Al that "it's not your fault" after he brutally kills Cassie. This makes the aversion with Jordan, Al's former lawyer, stand out all the more, as he didn't even need any prodding from Cassie to admit his remorse for his role in Nina's humiliation and eventual suicide, which is why a shocked Cassie ends up forgiving him, in contrast with all the others. Madison comes to realize that Cassie was right but is still furious at her.
  • Nice Guy: In a movie that explicitly calls out men who claim to be this but are really just assholes, there's one person who actually applies, being Cassie's dad Stanley. He's shown to love his daughter, even though she's a Basement Dweller who has wasted her talents for years. Unlike Cassie's mother, he never expresses his disappointment in her, and once Cassie starts getting better for the first time in years, he beams with pride and tells her how much he's missed that side of her.
  • Noodle Implements: We never find out what Cassie's plan was for the lawyer, but it involved at least one hired goon.
  • Nothing Nice About Sugar and Spice: Cassie is a rare Anti-Hero example of this trope. She always wears highly feminine clothes and lots of makeup, while she's pretending to be drunk so that men will take her home and she can punish them for trying to rape her. And she's trying to get revenge on the people who drove her best friend to suicide, even if that means making an ex-friend think she was raped and pretending to set a teenage girl up to be raped.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Al tries to justify his rape of Nina by claiming she was into it.
  • Obvious Villain, Secret Villain: Cassie knows that Al raped Nina, drove her to suicide, and faced no consequences. She even knows who bullied Nina (Madison) and who made sure Nina never got justice (Jordan and Dean Walker). She doesn't know that Ryan, who has re-entered her life and become her boyfriend, was there at Nina's rape and simply watched and laughed.
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: Played with. As a nod to Cassie's habit of tracking the men she encounters via tally marks in a notepad, each main sequence of the film is concluded with a pink "I" added to the center of the screen. While they seem like Roman numerals, the film opts for "IIII" instead of "IV". At the very end, once Al's wedding is busted, the four "I"s are shown with a diagonal line, representing the completion of the tally, and by extension Cassie's plan.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Carey Mulligan's English accent briefly comes through when Cassie is talking to Paul outside the bar, particularly when she says "You know, I'm not the only one who does this."
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Cassie makes Madison, a Karma Houdini who victim-shamed and bullied Nina into deep depression, think she's been raped after getting her drunk at lunch.
    • She tells Dean Walker her own daughter is currently getting drunk with the very same guys who raped Nina. Subverted when it turns out to be a lie; the point was simply for Walker to instantly drop all her pretense about how they deserved the benefit of the doubt when her own family was in danger, leaving her nowhere to hide from her own guilt.
  • Playing Drunk: Cassandra lures in her "victims" in bars and clubs by pretending to be intoxicated and then turning the tables on the "nice guys" who volunteer to "help her home".
  • Posthumous Character: Nina is never seen in person, yet her death years before the film begins drives Cassie and by extension the entire plot.
  • Predatory Prostitute: Invoked. Cassie poses as a stripper in the denouement and tells Al that she has to go upstairs with him, in order to be paid. She then handcuffs him to the bed and tries to brand him. Although she's not technically a sex worker, she plays with the image.
  • Rape and Revenge: Drives the plot. Cassie is motivated by a desire to avenge her best friend Nina, who killed herself after being raped.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: The audience never sees the video of Nina's rape, but Cassie's horrified reaction and the voices heard are enough to paint a picture of the scene.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Nina dropped out of school, had severe mental health problems, and died by suicide after being raped in med school while the rapist's friends watched. Nina's assault and suicide also causes her best friend Cassie to suffer serious Sanity Slippage.
  • Retired Monster: Al raped a woman in his college years, but from everything we see, there's no signs that he's done anything like that since...until he kneels on a pillow over Cassie's face for a full two and a half minutes, smothering her to death.
  • Rich Bitch: Cassie’s former classmate Madison, who is now married to a wealthy husband and unrepentant when confronted by Cassie for her complicity in Nina's suffering. She does get better after Cassie tricks her into getting drunk and making her think she got raped.
  • Rule of Three:
    • A common excuse for the unrepentant perpetrators and enablers for Nina’s rape when Cassandra confronts them is insisting they “were just kids” (or other variants) — first Madison (in the script only), then Ryan, and finally the primary perpetrator himself, Al Monroe.
    • Cassie meets three would-be male rapists at bars throughout the film. First, there's Jerry, the "nice guy" in the opening whom we see trying to rape her. Then there's Neil, who actually doesn't try to rape Cassie while she's passed out, although he does work to get her as inebriated as possible; then there's Paul, who doesn't get a chance to do anything because he's interrupted by Ryan.
  • Shadow Archetype: Al and Joe's friendship mirrors Cassie and Nina's. They have been best friends since they were very young, exhibit Undying Loyalty towards each other, and are prepared to go to the lengths of murder and mutilation to help each other. But while Cassie wants revenge for Nina's rape and suicide, Joe is willing to help cover up that Al murdered Cassie. Joey is also willing to abandon Al when the cops come.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Cassie's final plan for Al (chaining him to a bed and carving Nina's name onto his chest) is very similar to Lisbeth's revenge on her rapist social worker Bjurmann (who she chains to a bed and carves the word "rapist" into) in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
    • Saying that killing a stripper at your bachelor party is a '90s thing.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Subverted. Al murders Cassie and Ryan lies to the police to make them think it was a suicide, but the last scene exposes them and sees Al arrested for Cassie’s murder.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The vodka Cassie feeds to the guests at Al's Stag Party is drugged to render them all insensible for the night while she takes her revenge on Al.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • The dean intimates that Nina brought her rape on herself for being promiscuous and being drunk while around men, saying women are partly to blame when they put themselves in vulnerable situations.
    • Jordan guiltily admits that while working as a defense lawyer defending accused rapists, he'd use any dirt they could dig up about the accuser's sexual past to intimidate them into dropping complaints, saying at his firm they had a team for just that (while noting the Internet has made it easier than ever).
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • After almost an entire film's worth of Cassie getting out of her Playing Drunk escapades unscathed and succeeding in exacting vengeance, she dies in her attempt to mutilate Al. No amount of righteous fury or careful planning can save a physically small woman with zero combat training when she goes up against a guy strong enough to break handcuffs.
    • The handcuffs in question seem to be ones from a sex shop. They are intentionally designed to be nowhere near as durable as the real deal and thus provide barely any actual restraint when Al starts fighting for his life.
    • It turns out a few panicking idiots with no criminal background or knowledge of forensics don't do that good a job hiding a corpse. Once the police know where to begin their search, they find Cassie's body fairly quickly.
  • Systematic Villain Takedown: Cassie decides to do this to each of Nina's tormenters.
    • First, she sets Madison up to think she's been raped in order to Pay Evil unto Evil (although she does eventually tell Madison she wasn't raped and she wouldn't have let that happen) because Madison laughed at and bullied Nina after receiving the video of Nina being raped while intoxicated.
    • Then, she finds Dean Walker's daughter and essentially kidnaps her, later claiming to have sent Walker's naive daughter into a dorm with a bunch of drunk college guys after taking Al's side over Nina's. It was a lie but gives Walker a taste of her own medicine and seriously shakes her up.
    • Then she finds Jordan, the lawyer who tormented Nina when she tried to press charges against Al. We never find out what she had planned for him because she is shocked to discover that he's the only one who feels genuine guilt for what he did.
    • Then finally, Nina's rapist Al and Ryan, who watched it happen and never stopped it. She plans to carve Nina's name on Al's chest so he never forgets what he did. But though Al manages to overpower and kill her before she can go through with it, it then is revealed that she has actually already taken down Al and Ryan by circulating the video of Nina's rape and leaving enough evidence behind to link Al to her death.
  • Thanatos Gambit: The ending reveals Cassie specifically included her possible murder at the hands of Al into her plans, and manages to posthumously get justice for herself and Nina.
  • Together in Death: After being murdered, Cassie's last text is signed "Love, Cassie & Nina ;)".
  • Token Black Friend:
    • Gail (Laverne Cox) is given little characterization outside of her one-sided support for the white Cassie.
    • Paul (Sam Richardson) is the sole black member of the creepy men at the bar in the opening scene. He appears in a minor role later on as one of Cassie's would-be victims but is overshadowed by Ryan.
  • To the Pain: Cassie doesn't actually inflict any physical harm on her targets, instead leaving them with the mental torture of having to face how horrible their actions were.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Al smothers Cassie by clamping a pillow over her face. It's a more realistic take on the trope, as he plants his knee on the pillow, leans on it with his full body weight, and doesn't let up for over two minutes of screentime.
  • Wedding Finale: The story ends at Al and Anastasia's wedding. They get married, with Al appearing a Karma Houdini, but Cassie comes through at the last moment with her posthumous text, breaking up the reception.
  • Wham Line: "Oh my God. Whoa. This is insane." From the tape of Nina's rape — in Ryan's voice.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Cassie's final plan. She plans to punish Al for Nina's rape by posing as a stripper at his bachelor party, tying him up and carving his victim's name into his chest, but Al fights back and kills her. Joe helps him dispose of her body, and Ryan betrays her by lying to the police about her whereabouts when he learns she's disappeared. However, the final scene reveals that Cassie prepared for this outcome by having the video evidence of Nina's rape sent to Jordan along with information on where she was going and who would be responsible if she went missing. This ends up getting Al arrested for her murder.