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Promising Young Woman's controversial ending explained

Warning! Major spoilers ahead…

promising young woman
Eve Crosbie
Eve CrosbieTV & Film Writer
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Promising Young Woman has finally landed on Sky Cinema/Now TV and we've already added it to our weekend watch list!

MORE: Carey Mulligan responds to Promising Young Woman criticism: 'It stuck with me'

The film, which critics have described as a genre-bending mix of romance, thriller and black comedy, stars Carey Mulligan and took home two BAFTA Awards earlier this month.

While the ending is surely one that will stick with viewers for a long time after the credits finish rolling, many have taken to social media to express their disappointment, branding it "shockingly sad" and a "gut punch". Warning! Major spoilers ahead…

WATCH: Promising Young Woman is now available to watch on Sky Cinema and Now TV

The film follows med school dropout Cassie, whose life has never been the same since her best friend Nina killed herself after a devastating sexual assault. She spends her days working at a coffee shop and her nights feigning drunkenness in clubs so that she can expose "nice guys" who take her home only to try to take advantage of her. 

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A chance encounter leads her to reconnect with one of her old classmates, Ryan, who it turns out was present during Nina's assault. After she learns of his involvement - and that Nina's rapist is back in town to get married - she blackmails him into telling her where the bachelor party is being held.

promising young woman cassie© Photo: Rex

Have you watched Promising Young Woman yet?

Cassie turns up to the stag do disguised as a stripper, and after drugging all of Al's friends, handcuffs him to a bed. It's then that she reveals her real identity. It's suggested that she intends to carve Nina's name into Al's chest so that he - nor anyone else - will be able to forget what happened to her. Tragically, before she can do so Al breaks free and smothers her with a pillow, killing her.

The scene that follows is an excruciating watch that's made all the more poignant by the fact that it lasts two and half minutes, the exact length of time it takes to suffocate someone, something director Emerald Fennell learned from ex-law enforcement father-in-law.

pyw ending© Photo: Rex

The film stars Carey Mulligan as a woman traumatised by tragedy

After Cassie doesn't return home, her parents file a missing person report and Ryan is visited by the police. He tells them that she was mentally unstable, but knowing it would lead to more questions, does not reveal where Cassie went.

However, it turns out that Cassie has prepared for the worst. Ahead of the bachelor party showdown, she has sent a copy of Nina's assault video to Al's reformed lawyer with instructions of what to do and left half of the heart necklace she was wearing in the coffee shop register.

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The film ends with one final twist: as Ryan watches on as Al is led away by the police, he begins to receive a series of pre-scheduled texts from Cassie's number. "You didn't think this was the end, did you?" the first text reads, followed by: "Enjoy the wedding!" and "Love, Cassie & Nina." Lastly, she sends him a taunting winky face.

emerald fennell z© Photo: Getty Images

Emerald Fennell has defended the controversial ending

While it's not necessarily the ending fans expected, director Emerald, who previously worked on Killing Eve, has spoken out to defend her choice to end the film this way. Talking to Entertainment Weekly, she said that while she did considered ending the movie with Cassie triumphing over the men, she scrapped the idea in favour of a more realistic conclusion. 

"[That ending] was never written because the moment Cassie is in that room, I realised that there is no way of honestly showing that," she said. "Because it's not true. And it was important to me to play out as realistically as I could, what this would look like."

She added: "I cannot imagine being in a room with a man and threatening him where it plays out in any different way — no matter how much we want it to be the case."

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