Sundance 2021: VIOLATION is I Spit on Your Grave Meets Von Trier’s Antichrist

Sundance is well known for their midnight selections, and my first midnight film in my first Sundance has no doubt cemented their reputation, thanks to that first film being Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s debut feature Violation. The film which was both written and directed by the pair that walked out of TIFF with a Rising Star award for co-writer/director and star Madeleine Sims-Fewer. This was no doubt for her unflinchingly and heart breaking performance in this refreshing take on the Rape Revenge sub-genre. For my money, the film that hits Shudder proper on March 25th is the empowering feminist take on the exploitive trope laded films that I wish Promising Young Woman had been.

The non-linear narrative of Violation follows Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer), who is a self confessed, “not very nice person”. She’s on the verge of divorce when she spends a long weekend with her younger sister Greta and her charismatic husband Dylan at their idyllic lake home. Dylan, who was a childhood friend of the sisters, betrays Miriam’s trust when he rapes her the morning after she drunkenly kisses him and attempts to open up to get his perspective on how to possibly save her marriage. It’s that level of complexity of the interconnected relationships at the heart of the film that eschews the traditional expectations of the viewer who’s been down this dark road more than once. Because Miriam’s story is not only about how this transgression colors her relationship with Dylan, but that of her sibling and her childhood that gives the film a dimension that some may not be prepared for.

Even though I have seen more than my fair share of films from this genre I found Violation excruciating to watch in its depiction of its premeditated violence. It’s not simply torture porn either, or at least it may feel that way way before the bigger picture is revealed. But Miriam isn’t simply looking to get bloody revenge here, as you’d expect; she is looking to erase Dylan from the fabric of reality, and goes to insane lengths to do so in the hopes of repairing her bond with her sister. It’s a deeper dive that jettisons the more exploitative elements you’d expect in favor of investigating the ties that bind us to those around us and what we would do if those were broken or severed. It’s something that thanks to its out of order narrative keeps you wondering just what is in fact transpiring and how that shakes out for Miriam.

The easiest way to describe it for me would be its I Spit on Your Grave meets Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. It’s not just because star Madeleine Sims-Fewer reminded me very much of Trier’s muse Charlotte Gainsbourg in her unflinching and complete dedication to her role, but the film’s use of score, cinematography and imagery also invoked the Danish filmmaker. Like Antichrist it’s also the male that does the majority of the nudity here, with actor Jesse LaVercombe going full frontal in a scene that might scare off the homophobic horror bros who are just expecting titillation. It’s the kind of performance I feel like is expected of females when they partake in the genre and its refreshing to see a man get just as vulnerable as his female counterparts on screen, which definitely puts this film apart from most in its company.

It’s not easy to do what Violation does, and it does it extremely well. The film flips the expectations to tell a much more nuanced story that digs into that gray area that most directors would cower away from. Miriam is a flawed person and the scenario put forth is fraught the perceived ambiguousness of “he said, she said” and distills it coming out unscathed and completely reassured in its depictions of right and wrong is something that I think makes it a stronger film than most in this genre. Violation is a ferocious depiction of absolute cause and effect, that is chilling in its exactness. It’s not simply vindication or release that Miriam is after here, but something much more absolute and because of that there’s no mistaking the intentions here.

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