Violet, a headache-inducing new drama from 2021’s SXSW Film Festival, has a specific style that will make or break the film for any viewer. It features a terrific lead performance from Olivia Munn, and is filled to the brim with recognizable faces in cameo roles. Similar to 2019’s Uncut Gems, Violet feels like one big anxiety trip that rattles you senselessly with its messages.
Violet (Olivia Munn) lives her life according to “The Voice” (Justin Theroux) in her head. She reacts coldly out of fear, always listening to this inner voice over her own. This leads to Violet always valuing her professional life over her personal life, underselling the importance of family and relationships. Violet slowly starts to realize that “The Voice” might not have her best interests at heart after all.
Writer/director Justine Bateman makes some fascinating choices in her feature film debut. Horrific imagery comes in flashes, with erratic editing screaming in your face and shaking your shoulders. Metaphorical anxiety bleeds out through clumps of cursive text and Justin Theroux’s barely recognizable angry-voiceover. Violet can’t even have a normal conversation without “The Voice” chiming in—it inserts itself over top of dialogue and drowns it out. Though intentional, it comes off more like that annoying person who keeps talking in the theater. The text is entirely unnecessary. There wasn’t a single scene where I felt the captioned thoughts added something substantial to the scene.
Olivia Munn is really great as Violet. She plays a person struggling with intense emotional disturbances, holding her back from following her dreams. Violet is a fascinating character. We should know her inside and out, thanks to the excessive amount of cursive text and voiceover. Strangely enough, this creates a distance between the character and audience. It actually allows for less characterization—the cutesy writing displays inner panic, while the loud male voiceover doesn’t fit the tone. It’s a weird, conflicting opposite that left me cold on the character of Violet.
There is barely progression from beginning to end, but the ending seems to treat it as if it’s a cure-all. The final act starts to get exciting, then abruptly ends without warning. It didn’t feel like we had closure to an arc for Violet. The only character that elicited a strong, angry reaction from me was Violet’s incessant boss Tom (Dennis Boutsikaris). He’s borderline unbearable, and I was hoping Violet would slap him across the face. Violet will work better for those who relate more personally to anxiety and that little voice inside your head. Personally, this was one loud voice that made me want to scramble for the mute button.