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{Sundance Film Festival} Violation – First Look Review

Trigger warning: this review of Violation discusses graphic sexual content, sexual violence, and extreme violence/gore

Violation is a hyperrealistic take on the rape revenge horror genre, with plenty of gut-wrenching moments within a non-linear structure.

This movie springs from a very personal place for filmmakers, writers, and producers Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli. All pouring their hearts into into their feature debut. It adds value to the film, portraying the horror not just in a merely voyeuristic manner. Violation deals with a delicate subject most bluntly, prompting a reflection on assault and cruelty which is both sobering and terrifying. 

Portrait of a shattered woman

When unhappily married Miriam and Caleb (Obi Abili) reunite with her sister Greta and husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe), everyone expects a mildly awkward gathering at their family cabin. Old school friends, Miriam and Dylan seem to be attracted to each other, keeping their impulses at bay for Greta’s and Caleb’s sake. But their unacted fantasy is about to take a turn for the worse. 

The audience embarks on an unsettling journey inside Miriam’s fractured retelling of her trauma. In an ambiguous back-and-forth between different timelines, viewers get to piece together this portrait of a shattered woman. 

Writer and director Sims-Fewer gives a powerhouse performance as protagonist Miriam, a woman coming to terms with her own demons in a terrible denouement.

Violation isn’t for the faint-hearted

In a flashback, Dylan rapes Miriam in her sleep while they’re camping by a fire in the woods. A sequence of blurred details, this scene is sickening and suffocating, focusing on Miriam’s nearly out-of-body experience rather than on the act per se. 

This feeling of uneasiness spills into the confrontation Miriam has with Dylan. Her trust betrayed, the protagonist is gaslit by both her sister and brother-in-law. The former, refusing to believe that her charming, affable husband would ever harm anyone; the latter having perceived the assault as consensual sex.

Spiraling out of control, Miriam enacts her revenge like the heroine in a Greek tragedy. Her plan includes an extremely graphic sequence that is not for the faint of heart. The scene is a testament to how committed to the role Sims-Fewer is, bringing herself to vomit on camera. And it’s also what anchors Miriam to reality, the proof that she isn’t a cold-blooded monster. 

The lines between predators and preys blur in Violation

As evidenced in the deeply unnerving vomiting scene, sound is crucial to tell the story. The sound design and mix by Matt Chan incorporates the most mundane noises — egg whisking, duct tape being ripped off — turning the domestic into a foreign, insidious land.

Courtesy of The Sundance Film Festival

Similarly, the editing by Gabriella Wallace juxtaposes Miriam’s memories with beautiful shots of Quebecois landscapes brimming with flora and fauna. 

As the opening sequence of a wolf feasting on a rabbit suggests, Violation insists on the dichotomy of predator and prey. The filmmakers make a point of presenting Dylan as someone who is unarguably pleasant. Yet, he doesn’t even begin to understand the atrocity of what he did to Miriam. He immediately blames her rather than taking responsibility. On her part, Miriam is introduced as a semi-vegetarian who’s too squeamish to skin a rabbit for dinner. Tragically, these power dynamics shift completely when she kidnaps her brother-in-law. 

A shocking rape revenge horror

Similarly to powerful rape revenge thriller Promising Young WomanViolation, too, depicts the casual predatory behavior the so-called ‘nice guys’ are responsible for. Unlike Carey Mulligan’s character Cassie, however, Miriam’s revenge is anything but bloodless. 

Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli’s movie reminds viewers of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge in the way it doesn’t shy away from gore. But Violation has an added layer of complexity, bringing viewers into Miriam’s mind as she processes her pain.

The alternate timeline blocks don’t always work seamlessly, and that only adds to the disorientation. Violation is a shocking debut that truly pushes the envelope on rape revenge movies. Stylish and well-acted, it is proof of how cathartic art can be for those who make it.

You can catch Violation yourself when it heads to Shudder March 25th.

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