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SXSW 2021: Violation Review

Fresh from the festival circuit, debuting initially at Toronto International Film Festival 2020 and then Sundance and SXSW film festivals in 2021, critically acclaimed revenge thriller Violation is heading to horror streaming service Shudder. Featuring a bold exploration of the rape revenge sub-genre, paired with a shockingly unflinching vengeance sequence, this certainly isn’t a film for the faint hearted. The non-linear narrative and timely themes spotlighted raise a number of questions – and definitely hasn’t left my mind since watching.

With her rocky marriage about to fail, Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) heads to her hometown to seek the warmth and familiarity of her young sister (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law (Jesse LaVercombe). But mixed signals lead to a sorely misjudged deed and act of betrayal, leaving Miriam reeling and feeling violated. Driven away after turning to her sister for guidance, she believes there’s only one path left for her; revenge.

Violation is a slow-burn, psychological deconstruction of the revenge sub-genre told from the view of a potentially unreliable narrator, muddying the waters. The non-linear narrative unfolds in a confusing and disorientating manner, like waking from a nightmare, and you begin to question what’s truly real. While the pacing is pretty pedestrian in the first half while establishing Miriam’s rocky relationships, once the unforgivable act happens, everything changes. As the realisation and trauma sinks in, she becomes consumed by revenge, and yet when she finally takes it, the unspeakable act is so visceral and methodical – it leaves you reeling. Following the similarly themed Promising Young Woman, men’s actions are at the forefront of the tale, but long gone is the typical cathartic empowerment. Instead Sims-Fewer and co-writer/director Dusty Mancinelli subvert tropes and blur the lines, leaving us internally conflicted over the shocking brutality of Miriam’s revenge.

Actor & director Madeleine Sims-Fewer is fully committed to the powerful role, with a raw and blistering central performance which commands attention. Miriam’s failing marriage is clear to see, along with the strained family dynamics with her sister – but when her trauma is unleashed, her violent deeds and clinical approach to disposing the body does lead you to question her actions. There is no catharsis here, instead a slow, sobering detachment from her humanity as she becomes an animalistic version of herself – much like the wolf we so often glimpse throughout.

The film is also stunningly shot, particularly with the combination of Adam Crosby’s muted colour palette and the beautiful wild landscape and remote lakeside cabin. The woods and lakes may look beautiful, but there’s always a reminder that there’s something somewhat grim when you take a closer look, symbolised with the many swarming midges over the lake. The shocking and brutal act itself is uncompromisingly documented by an incredibly long and wide shot, brought to life by unsettling sound design as Miriam slowly dismembers the body. It’s definitely the most disturbing brutalisation of a male character at the hands of a woman I’ve witnessed, which will leave you feeling uncomfortable as the filmmakers certainly make their point.

Verdict

Shudder’s latest is a powerful and disturbing addition which will undoubtedly get under your skin and stick with you for a long time. However, the slow pacing and abrupt ending does unfortunately dampens the rest of the film.

VIOLATION is exclusively released on SHUDDER on 25 March 2021

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