TIFF 2020 Review: ‘Violation’

A woman exacts revenge after a rape in this intimate, unflinching and unsettling slow-burn thriller.

The relationship between predator and prey, hunter and hunted is highlighted numerous times throughout Violation, a grim, unsettling revenge tale and the feature debut from filmmakers Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli. Images of a wolf eating and toying with a dead rabbit, a poisonous spider being nonchalantly trapped under a glass by a person without so much as a second thought. There’s a cold cruelty in nature, one that shrugs off any concept of morality in favor of instinct and intrinsic needs, and it’s against this central idea that Violation is set: a tale of nature vs nurture and the fluid, murky borders between trauma, trust, intimacy, sex, love and the tenuous bonds between us.

Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) arrive at the remote, woodsy home of her sister, Greta (Anna Maguire) and her brother-in-law, Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe), for a weekend family reunion. But it’s not long before tensions arise, as longstanding resentments and sibling rivalries flare, and relationship issues and taboo flirtations make for an awkward gathering. Before the trip is through, a betrayal occurs that sets the stage for a shocking revenge.

Time and memory are loose here – the filmmakers play with the concepts of truth and perception using a non-linear timeline, but there’s also a naturalistic, minimalist style at play (minimal soundtrack, all-natural lighting) and a frankness between the characters that creates a sense of intimacy. That same intimacy, then, turns into excruciating clarity when it comes to Miriam’s revenge itself – there is no buffer between us and the cold, grisly calculus of her retaliatory actions, which makes for an unnervingly raw experience.

For whose benefit does Miriam commit her actions? Does the punishment fit the crime? Is Miriam good or evil? As humans, we, along with Miriam, are left to ponder these thoughts. Nature on the other hand, doesn’t ask such questions. 

Violation. Dir. Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli. Canada, 2020

Run Time: 107 minutes

TIFF Premier: Sept 14, 2020, Midnight Madness Category

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