Written and Directed by Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer.
Starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, and Obi Abili.
A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge.
It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to make a creative choice eschewing chronological storytelling in favor of something nonlinear that better reflects either the state of mind of its characters or thematic intent. With Violation, the writing/directing combination of Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer (both have plenty of experience with short films, with this being the feature-length directorial debut for each of them) have opted to study sexual assault PTSD, revenge, fractured relationships, and flawed characters all through the prism of a shaken mind jumping all over the place.
That mind belongs to Miriam (also played by one half of the writing/directing team, Madeleine Sims-Fewer, whose devastating portrayal of pain, emptiness, and vengeance is captured with such a staggering amount of realism it’s enough to overcome the few narrative flaws there are), who, at the narrative beginning of Violation, is having trouble making conversation with her significant other Caleb (Obi Abili) during a car ride to a remote woodland lodging serving as both the location for an extended family get together and a place to try reconnecting with her estranged sister Greta (Anna Maguire). Immediately, there is a juxtaposition between the distant relationship of Miriam and Caleb with Greta and Dylan’s Jesse LaVercombe) more publicly affectionate and sexually energized, fairly kinky dynamic.
It’s right there in the title, but Miriam is violated. And at first, the nonlinear storytelling is clever contrasting Dylan’s warped and romanticized perception of rape with the disturbing reality of what happened. In Dylan’s version of the events, it’s not even rape, as according to him this is something Miriam wanted. And while there are suggestions that Miriam might have fantasized about such a thing (the two are also childhood friends and seem to have their own connection, with Miriam herself confessing to being a sometimes selfish and morally compromised person), more than anything it’s an icky primer of the ways men can twist and take advantage of drunkenness to prop up a distorted truth. No one assumes Dylan is capable of such a thing, meaning Miriam’s expose falls on deaf ears to Greta. It doesn’t help that Miriam and Greta already have frustrations with one another needing to be addressed.
The revenge and horrific act itself, the setup, and the aftermath; all of it is juxtaposed but as the story continues to shift around, occasionally becomes muddled and confusing. The connection of this creative choice to Miriam is there, but it also results in a few minutes at a time piecing together a timeline of events. Put it this way, there’s a scene where Miriam discloses not having any sexual urges towards Caleb for a year, and for a few brief minutes, I felt like I was going certifiably insane trying to figure out if it was really a lack of sexual desire or a traumatic reaction to rape, which also wouldn’t have made sense in the scene for multiple reasons. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence having to place where a scene is taking place although thankfully never too difficult to figure out.
Miriam’s response to the rape when it comes to Caleb makes for a complicated scene founded on psychological implications and an entirely different kind of suffering. It’s by far one of the best scenes in the movie, but also one that could have been more impactful if the script had bothered to dig deeper into Miriam’s relation with all of these characters. Instead, Violation spends a bit too much time on a segment that signifies why Shudder picked up what is otherwise an artistic endeavor into rape trauma, and that is Miriam’s graphic journey on what to do with Dylan’s body upon murdering him. Also, with a more straightforward narrative, that could be considered a grand spoiler, but here it’s more about the way all of the sequences inform each other. Regardless, there are some sections here that go on a bit too long with the different aspects of the film functioning as far more intriguing than others, especially the rift between Miriam and Greta which could have also been more defined.
In other positives, Violation always looks good and sounds good (there’s everything from natural lighting, gorgeous forest cinematography using predators and prey as metaphors for the plot in more ways than one, and operatic music emphasizing the inner torment) no matter what the narrative is focusing on at any given time. Then there’s Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who is nothing short of outstanding and imbues the highs and rough edges of the film with a harrowing display of agony. Issues with structure aside, Violation accomplishes its goals of analyzing rape culture and expressing the importance of believing survivors, all while purposely dragging itself out as remarkably unsettling.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com