Revenge stories are some of the most popular tales in fiction. They can be done in several ways, but two of the most popular are the cathartic method. Where you just want the character to execute on their revenge in any way they can because you know they are in the right. And the other one is the deconstruction, where revenge is seen as something that must be done, but the cost might be too high.
Revenge is never pretty in the cases of the latter category, in these stories the toll of the revenge on the character that is trying to execute it might be too much. They might lose themselves inside this thirst for revenge, and the result is a character study that dwells into what we as humans are willing to do to achieve our goals, even when they are misguided.
Savage Beauty falls in the middle of both paths when telling a revenge story. Its soap opera conventions make it feel like the show is going to go through the most simple route. However, as the story progresses, we start seeing that what might have started as a rightful enterprise might end up being the undone for the character. Harry Dent said so once, we die a hero, or we live long enough to see ourselves become the villain.
Savage Beauty is a South African production that is arriving at Netflix this week. The series was created by Lebogang Mogashoa, and stars Rosemary Zimu, Dumisani Mbebe, and Nthani Moshesh. The series tells the tale of Zinhle, a young model that has been chosen by a big beauty company to be the face of their new beauty line. As Zinhle starts getting inside the family that rules the company, it is revealed she has a long vendetta against the patriarch of the family, and she will take everything from him.
Watching a South African production getting into Netflix and basically being able to be seen by millions of people around the world, is quite an achievement. All the members of the production team should be proud of their work on the show. Yes, Savage Beauty cannot really compete in terms of production values against other drama shows from Netflix or from other streaming services. The show does look cheap at times, but you can really see that the filmmakers are doing the best they can with their available resources.
The inconsistency in the production values it is just a nitpick, because what really matters, in this case the story, is executed very well. The show manages to be entertaining, mysterious, and thrilling at all the same time. Savage Beauty takes a lot of inspiration from the soap opera format, but instead of rushing for things to happen, it takes its presenting and establish the characters that will play in the story.
This level of set up does make the story flow a bit slow. Specially on the first half, but as the second half of the season starts things become faster and the set-up moves to make space for the payoff, which is quite satisfying. The story itself isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, the premise and the way it is executed are all very familiar, and yet, it is clear why filmmakers keep using this formula. It just works.
Savage Beauty isn’t only about revenge, that is the main subject of the story, but the series also manages to integrate other themes into the story. As the storylines develop, themes such a class inequality, family dynamics, marriage, violence, exploitation, and even beauty standards are all tackle by the show at some point. Some of these themes are better developed than other, however, having so many of them makes the show feel richer than any soap opera around.
When it comes to the acting, some of it is quite solid. To be frank, most of the actors are obviously overreacting, and it comes off as funny sometimes, they are very over the top. Specially Nthani Moshesh in the role of maybe one of the worst mother’s on television. Moshesh kills it, but it is very exaggerated at times. Nambitha Ben-Mazwi and Angela Sithole come off as the best actors in the show, they are expressive but never go into full melodrama more, which makes their characters feel more real than the rest.
Visually, the show comes off rather generic. There are some cool shots here and there, but they feel mostly like they should be in another show, one that is more stylized. When these cools shots are used here, they feel inconsistent with the rest of the visual palette. This type of story doesn’t really ask for a lot of style when it comes to visuals, but this is one aspect of the show that feel like very low effort was put into it.
Zinhle’s arc throughout the story is quite consistent and transformative for the character. Towards the end it really makes excited for what is coming next for the characters, as a new status quo needs to set up for the next season, in other to make things feel fresh and interesting. If the filmmakers manage to do that, only time will tell.
Savage Beauty might not have the best production values, and most of the actors come off as overacting, but even after all these caveats, the revenge formula is being applied almost perfectly. The sense of familiarity will give you that comfort you feel they need when wanting to watch something and just chill. The show really has the potential to find its audience on Netflix, the announcement of a second season will tell us if it was successful at that.