New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Sundance 2021 Review: Violation

By Andrea Thompson

The rape revenge film “Violation” is meant to evoke bad feeling from its opening with a cute little rabbit being devoured by a black wolf in a remote, woodsy location that the filmmakers continually depict as unsettlingly as possible, as if we need to be reminded just what kind of movie we’ve agreed to watch. Chances are we’ll regret it by the end.

Much like “Promising Young Woman,” another recent film which aims to subvert and interrogate the patriarchy, only to indulge in the very tropes it’s trying to criticize, “Violation” clearly believes its graphic depictions of violence and full frontal nudity, which eventually include a fully erect penis, automatically equate to edginess. But it’s so damn busy trying to shock and unsettle it completely forgets to interrogate the dynamics around the rape of its central character Miriam, played by Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who also co-directed and co-wrote with Dusty Mancinelli.

“Violation” at least doesn’t objectify Miriam, and her rape is by no means filmed to titillate, with its unnerving, fractured closeups of eyes and hands that emphasize Miriam’s psyche failing to fully grasp what’s happening to her. But it fails to provide a fitting explanation for what comes after. Miriam’s rapist Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) isn’t just a man she’s known and trusted since her school days, he’s also her sister Greta’s (Anna Maguire) husband. That this is shattering is a given, but what the movie does shows of the sisters’ estranged relationship fails to explain why Greta doesn’t just refuse to believe Miriam, but blame her and continue to be intimate with Dylan. 

Rather, it spends far more time on Miriam and Dylan’s dynamic and its violent turn. It believes it’s empathizing with Miriam’s pain, but it’s actually wallowing in it. Miriam seems to have no bonds whatsoever, and that includes Caleb (Obi Abili), the husband she’s on the verge of divorcing. Caleb is also the only Black character, and the movie’s relationship with blackness in general bears some scrutinization, given that Miriam attempts to initiate sex with Caleb shortly after her assault and calls him a girl when he spurns her.

While Miriam’s eventual revenge is graphically, gruesomely depicted, it fails to truly follow through even on condemning it, since no real fallout or aftermath is shown. Are we supposed to believe Miriam is a dangerous woman on a downward spiral when she screams in a man’s face later? Do the filmmakers truly believe that a woman showing any type of anger is still that edgy? Female rage is all the…well, rage now, and it’s no longer radical to sympathize with a female character who dares to show some. “Violation” has other, more effective ways to disturb, and disturb it does. What it fails to realize is true empathy is still often the most radical choice we can make. 

Grade: D

Violation will be released on Shudder March 25.

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