For its U.S. audiences, Shudder released its latest original movie, Violation. After premiering at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Violation generated some strong critical buzz. A subversion of the rape-revenge narrative, Violation has also elicited some conversation around its disturbing violence. Though it’s only been available for less than a week, audiences are more divided on this movie. Yet this may have more to do with the movie’s difficult subject matter than its overall quality.
For several years, sisters Miriam and Greta have not spoken with one another. Now Miriam and her husband Obi have accepted an invitation to spend a weekend with her sister and brother-in-law Dylan at their Quebec cabin. But years of bitterness and resentment prove difficult to move past. Feeling alienated from her sister and her emotionally distant marriage, Miriam turns to Dylan, also a childhood friend, for support. However, when Dylan violates her trust in the worst way imaginable, Miriam’s relationships further crumble apart. Grief-stricken and traumatized, Miriam turns to an act of brutal revenge.
Violation Will Prove to a Difficult Watch For Many Viewers
Technically, Violation is not a horror movie – it’s a horror movie in much the same way Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is horror. Writer and directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeline Sims-Fewer explore trauma and its in this exploration where the film’s horror emerges. Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer adopt a deliberately methodical pace, thus allowing the tension amidst the relationships to develop naturally. Both Adam Crosby’s cinematography and Andrea Boccadoro’s score set this tension against a hauntingly beautiful background. Like Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, Violation’s treatment of the assault removes the exploitation found in most rape-revenge movies by focusing on Miriam’s reaction as opposed to the act itself. The camera almost never leaves her face – it is a painful, personal, and sad scene.
Additionally, Manicinelli and Sims-Fewer refuse to stylize the violence, using long cuts of extremely uncomfortable acts with no score or cues to remind the audience that what they’re watching is not real.
Where Violation increases its intensity, making it almost unwatchable, is in its depiction of Miriam’s revenge. Consistent with its subversive approach to the subject, Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer swamp gender roles and place their male character in the traditionally exploitative lens of the brutalized. Several aspects of the scene amplify its shock value. There is the unexpected full frontal male nudity not common to horror. Additionally, Manicinelli and Sims-Fewer refuse to stylize the violence, using long cuts of extremely uncomfortable acts with no score or cues to remind the audience that what they’re watching is not real. What results is a brutal, visceral experience that emotionally drains you.
Subversive Take on a Tired Sub-Genre Adds Sense of Urgency to the Story
Given its approach to the subject, Violation is as urgent of a movie as it is necessary. That is, Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer’s screenplay puts rape culture under a microscope. Their story presents Miriam as troubled from the outset, while casting her brother-in-law Dylan as an affable ‘everyman’. In addition to making his betrayal all the more gutting, it allows Violation to explore how patriarchy and rape culture influence how we view and treat victims of sexual violence. Dylan gaslights Miriam, shifting the blame on to her, while Greta dismisses Miriam’s claims. And it’s Greta’s reaction to her sister that highlights the various ways in which we’re socialized to often blame victims.
…it allows Violation to explore how patriarchy and rape culture influence how we view and treat victims of sexual violence.
Violation also explores trauma in Miriam’s vengeful crusade. As compared to past rape-revenge movies, and revenge movies more generally, Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer go to great lengths to show the futility of Miriam’s actions. Revenge movies often characterize vengeance as cathartics for their protagonists. But Miriam experiences no catharsis; Violation leaves her traumatized and her future uncertain. Sims-Fewer, who also plays ‘Miriam’, delivers an intense performance that bring the character’s betrayal and trauma to painful life. Most of Sims-Fewer’s acting credits are in short films, so her performance here is a revelation. Her dramatic range is impressive and the performance deserves to be seen even if the movie itself is difficult to watch.
Violation is a Powerful Movie That You’ll Likely Never Want to Watch Again
Reviewing Violation was admittedly tricky – it’s a challenging movie that even those who appreciate will likely to not want to watch again. On one hand, Violation is beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted, and an immediately imperative movie. Like another Shudder production, Revenge, Mancinelli and Sim-Fewer subvert the rape-revenge narrative, resulting in a uniquely feminist horror movie. But Violation is also unrelenting, uncomfortable, and necessarily unsatisfying. Trauma lingers in real life and, thus, Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer leave with you no resolution, much like Miriam. Additionally, the movie’s violence may be too much for many viewers. Nonetheless, Violation represents a significant accomplishment for its young filmmakers.