When you think of a typical rape revenge tale, like Last House on the Left, or I Spit On Your Grave, there’s inherent cathartic moments baked into the script. Violation lacks these moments, instead taking a hyper-realistic approach to the subgenre. The structure of the storyline, and the depth to these characters, elevates Violation significantly. Visuals are unnerving, with frequent use of intense close-up to enhance the mood. Violation uses male nudity in a way that objectifies the man instead of the woman—this completely subverts expectations. Writer/director team Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer (who also stars), both victims of sexual abuse, have crafted a deeply personal, visceral exploration of trauma.
Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and Greta (Anna Maguire) are distant sisters, with very different lives. Miriam has married the quiet Caleb (Obi Abili), despite not being entirely smitten with him. On the flip side, Greta, also married, has a fiery, sexual relationship with charming husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Miriam hopes staying with Greta and Dylan can help balm her uncertainties, with her marriage on the cusp of imploding. A horrible event careens Miriam’s life into freefall, forcing her to make a decision that will change her life forever.
The rape itself, executed entirely in close-up, is uncomfortable and awful. An almost melodic score weaves us in and out of the complex narrative. The revenge angle is thankfully not glamorized—the whole affair is ugly, with real consequences. The weight of this terrible deed reverberates throughout the rest of the runtime. The details are what make this so special: bugs, wildlife, and landscapes rush at the viewer with a contemplative urgency. Dialogue feels natural, but essential. Every single line builds these characters into believable, flawed individuals.
Miriam herself is not made out to be superhuman; Madeleine Sims-Fewer weaves in a vast breadth of authenticity. Jesse LaVercombe’s Dylan was maybe the film’s most challenging role. His character never devolves to caricature. It’s an incredibly physical, challenging part that LaVercombe embodies with ease. The graphic nudity and savage brutality is an essential part of the story these creators are telling. We are plunged into this hellish experience with a lens free of exploitation.
Not everyone is going to love this film. It is divisive by design. This isn’t a crowd-pleasing, feel-good time at the movies. However, with the right set of expectations (and the knowledge you’ll be watching something heavy), Violation checks off all the boxes, and then some. This is one woman’s horrifying experience—rape, gaslighting, verbal abuse, revenge. These are elements that may sound familiar, but I can guarantee you haven’t seen them in this light. Violation was first shown at TIFF, Sundance, and SXSW, and it comes to Shudder on March 25th.