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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Violation (2021)

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater plays over a blurry shot slowly coming into focus. The title Violation appears with the hazy image revealing itself to be a pond nestled against a grassy embankment with a little bridge attached. The mood, tone and colour palette is dark, cold and foreboding. We are now in the forest - an out of focus naked figure walks through the woods, a wolf stands over a dead rabbit, toying with it before finally clutching it in its jaws. It all feels very much like Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist visually and atmospherically, with a nightmarish visualization of the deep dark forest with predators and evils lurking deep within.

These opening moments are cleverly orchestrated in a way to essentially tells the story of Violation, a rape-revenge psychological horror that tackles the subject of rape with a unique perspective not often seen in this prickly sub-genre. Written and directed by filmmaking duo Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, Violation is their feature-length debut with Sims-Fewer as the protagonist Miriam. Miriam is visiting her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) from London with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) in the hopes of them reconnecting after years apart. But one night, Miriam finds herself sexually violated by someone she thought she could trust, eventually sending her down a vengeful path.

Violation is smart and subtle in tackling its heavy subject matter. It approaches the awful circumstances in a unique manner that is not often seen in rape-revenge films. People forget that rape is non-consensual sex, first and foremost. It doesn't always appear to be violent and vicious. No really means no. This is where Violation takes a different approach to this subgenre of films that often always opts for the inciting incident of the plot to be at its most vicious, violent and cruel. It’s effective in getting us to feel the pain, humiliation and violation of the characters, putting us in their shoes- but these moments can also be exploited for shock value. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli show just how smart and considerate they are in handling these moments - focusing more on atmosphere, use of shot sizes and sound to tackle the difficult moment looming over the plot’s inciting incident.

Told in a non-linear fashion, Violation jumbles the order in which the events happened as well as placing moments of the actual exacting of revenge taking place amongst it all. It’s effective filmmaking in the same manner that something like Irreversible did in its reverse storytelling structure. Irreversible had a straighter line in its narrative structure though, so sequencing each scene out of chronological order is trickier, as each moment needs to have a major purpose in linking moments before and after each scene. Irreversible’s devastating rape scene makes the rest of the film all the more heartbreaking as we see this beautiful creature destroyed by an event that hasn’t happened to her yet as we go back to the beginning of their story, whereas with Violation, we are trying to pinpoint when the moment happened through performance beats by our characters, setting, dialogue and even the colour palette of the shots. The deeper and closer we get to the actual incident, our filmmakers start opting for tighter more invasive shots, barely letting Miriam breathe in terms of space on the screen. Almost every shot is a medium close-up or close-up as we intrude on her personal space. When the dreaded scene arrives, these shots are extremely close, with the focus shifting to sound as hushed breaths are paired with effective visuals of her skin, hands, hair and eyes. It’s not violent or aggressive, but quiet, intrusive and suffocates us with the lack of space or room on the screen. It’s a brilliantly edited, shot and mixed scene as it gives us just a sliver of the terrible feeling of violation Miriam is experiencing. Imagery of helpless insects and animals being pinned down by predators are scattered about the film. These visual metaphors may seem a tad obvious in intent but are effective nonetheless.

Miriam’s world is in a constant freefall in the film, occasional landscape shots flood the frame, flipping the image upside down and disorientating us; making it another effective tool in helping us get into her head of how she feels. The cinematography is gorgeous and menacing in nature, but the sound in Violation elevates the experience to a level of discomfort needed in what the film sets out to achieve. Tense strings shriek out as Miriam’s trauma continues to worsen throughout, eventually spilling over into conversations and situations with those around her. But during the traumatic event and the moments of revenge, the music lets the sound take center stage, creating masterful contrasts between both scenes through sound and the ability it has on igniting our emotional and even physical response to it all.

Sims-Fewer is devastating in the role of Miriam. She evokes a sense of fragility in the fury and agony that continues to grow inside her. It’s a visceral performance that doesn’t want to play the victim, but instead wants to confront the situation with full force, feeling every bit as authentic as it should.

Violation is a hard watch, but every single instance found within has been so carefully thought out and constructed in provoking a specific response from us through striking visuals, intentional colour palettes and highly detailed sound mixing. It’s shocking, bold and intelligent filmmaking regardless of how you feel about the end product. It doesn’t just want to show bad things happening to fragile people, but wants to challenge us in understanding if Miriam’s confrontation to the situation is too extreme or completely justified. After all, how would you respond?

Where you can watch it: Shudder (USA, UK, Australia)

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