Content Warning: Discussions of sexual assault and graphic violence.
Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli (directors and writers), Adam Crosby (cinematographer)
Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Jesse LaVercombe, Anna Maguire, Obi Abili (cast)
Available on Shudder March 25, 2021
When I was twenty-one, I was a waitress at a small fancy country club. I mostly got along with the staff and the patrons, but there was one chef who was a creep. He would talk about racist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories in between customers. I did my best to avoid him, and tried to focus on my work, because I was a “professional” and needed the money.
One day I was scheduled alone with him. There wasn’t anyone in for lunch. All members at the club were at the pool on the other side of the parking lot. The creep chef used this quiet to hit on me. Mind you, we were at work. Mind you, he was twice my age and married with three children. (All girls. Too bad for them.)
My alarm bells went off. If something happened, no one would hear me scream. I am small. To avoid him, I busied myself with rolling silverware into dinner napkins. Just in case, I grabbed a steak knife and took turns hiding it in my apron or shirt sleeve. I distinctly remember the feel of it in my hand, and the certainty that I would use it if I had to.
Luckily, nothing happened to me. I was also fortunate my boss believed me when I told him about the creep’s behavior. He was fired soon after for fighting with another chef, but I think his harassment of me contributed.
We like to tell ourselves how we would act if put into certain situations. Are we capable of violence to save ourselves and others? Or what about acts of violence as revenge? These ideas are played out in extreme in Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s rape revenge film, Violation.
Despite being a horror fan and having a fondness for some dark films, I tend to avoid rape and revenge movies. They make me feel anxious. I don’t want to think of my near-misses with assault or the traumatic experiences of my friends and acquaintances. However, I will give them a chance if there’s the promise they’re done well.
Such is the case with Violation. I do recommend the film, provided you are ready for its content and have a strong stomach for gore. It thoughtfully opens with such a warning.
Miriam (writer and director Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and her husband, Caleb (Obi Abili) return to woodsy Canada from London to visit Miriam’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire). Greta’s husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) is an old childhood friend of the pair. The film starts slowly as we watch the dynamics between the characters take shape. The easy-going, happy marriage between Greta and Dylan is contrasted with the tense and distant relationship of Miriam and Caleb. The gorgeous cinematography and unsettling score by Andrea Boccadoro give off a sense of unease long before anything happens.
Part of the film’s selling point is the anachronistic storytelling. We see the start of Miriam’s revenge before the assault is shown. To Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli’s credit, the assault is never meant to titillate and is filmed minimally.
As we come to find out, the seemingly charming and nice Dylan takes a brief moment of drunken flirtation from Miriam as an excuse to rape her when the pair are sleeping outside by a fire. Afterwards, Dylan tries to gaslight Miriam into thinking that it was consensual and she too is at fault. To make matters worse, Greta does not believe her sister when she tells her about the assault.
Violation may be titled in regards to Miriam’s rape by Dylan, but it is also for her revenge. Much of the second half of the film is a study of how long and brutal it is to kill someone. Then comes the disposing of the body. The scenes are unflinching, and there were a few moments where I felt nauseous. Even if the visuals are constrained due to budget, the sounds (oh lord, the sounds!) are what make the scenes so horrifying.
This is not the bloody fantasy of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. Everything is played for its uncomfortable reality. Miriam is organized like Amy Elliot Dunne in Gone Girl, but unlike the latter she doesn’t delight in what she’s doing. Nor does Miriam get the moral wiggle room when killing her rapist like Jessica Jones. Miriam is not acting in self defense or saving someone else. She reduces Dylan to nothing because she wants to.
In the end, there is little catharsis. Revenge is a dish best served cold (literally here). I finished Violation wondering what on earth Miriam would do now. Her marriage is likely over, and her relationship with her sister is changed forever. But this uncomfortable ending is why I liked Violation. There is no real resolution for the brutalities it depicts, because there never are.
The cast all give great performances. Sims-Fewer was dedicated and it shows, especially considering the content. Jesse LaVercombe gets extra kudos from me, for giving depth to the slimeball Dylan and for his acting in a sequence that required him to be explicitly naked.
Anna Maguire has sisterly chemistry with Sims-Fewer, although I wish we got to see more of how her relationship with Dylan changed after the assault. My biggest criticism of Violation is what’s done with Obi Abili’s Caleb. While Abili shines when he is given material to work with, Caleb really isn’t much of a character. This is a problem because he is the only character of color. The fact that he is a Black man in a relationship with a white woman is never engaged with. It is never shown or even implied as to what happened between him and Miriam. It’s a short sight, because Caleb could be cut from the film and nothing would change plot wise.
I encourage horror fans to consider watching Violation. Just as long as you are prepared. I consider it to be a feminist movie, because it takes what is often an insulting subgenre and turns it into an in-depth study of trauma and it’s aftermath. But I don’t think watching a man be systematically dismembered will make you feel empowered, even if it is being done by a woman.
Violation is available to watch on Shudder or Canadian iTunes.