The third and last feature of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness selection couldn’t have been more controversial or shocking. This is a rather sharp-edged movie of our times of one of the most disturbing yet relevant acts of human cruelty and violence. Consider this a global disclaimer and warning for mature content. This movie’s themes will be triggering and traumatic for sensible viewers. Some movies are uncomfortable to watch because they have to be.
Violation was written and directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli. It is the story of Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) as she and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) joins in on a weekend getaway with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Miriam and Caleb are going through a rough patch and the two sisters have not reconciled since a long history of unpleasant events. Dylan seems friendly enough. The movie makes it clear the woods are not a safe haven for resentment using mirror imagery and some surreal kaleidoscope effects.
This is a difficult viewing to say the least, starting with the title. The movie eschews the linear storytelling at key moments, allowing us to see some explicit scenes that end in violence only to reveal them as an act of revenge. The actual act of violence is muffled and mitigated, and later on completely overshadowed as if the victim herself is to blame. Miriam has a particularly shocking performance as both a victim who is later deemed an outsider by those she needs support from the most.
That isolation for Miriam and protection for her rapist is one of the most infuriating and frustrating sentiments I’ve ever experienced in film. The movie intentionally robs the audience of the revenge moment by displaying it out of sequence – this is not a typical revenge movie, despite the fact we do get violence, blood and dismemberment. And yet, all that is considerably less shocking that watching Miriam’s loved ones being all casual and friendly with our sexual predator. As matter of fact, the rapist himself thinks he has not done something wrong and is literally reimagined the event as a mutual mistake. This is really hard to witness and I almost turned off the film by then.
Strictly and cautiously recommended for mature viewing only with reservations. Assault survivors will find challenging to watch. Actually, most audiences will find it hard to watch in general. Because of the revenge and gore themes, it has a bit of a dissonant tone between a story of survival and one of violent revenge. At the same time, because the surreal takes and operatic music, it also has a bit of an ethereal film to it which can be deceptively peaceful. The full experience couldn’t be more stressful.
That will do for now.