TW: This review and film deal with themes such of rape and sexual violence.
VIOLATION is the feature-film debut from co-writers/directors Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer which had its World Premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. The film centers around a woman who experiences a shocking act of sexual violence that changes the course of her life. VIOLATION stars Sims-Fewer in the lead role of Miriam, along with Anna Maguire, Obi Abili, and Jesse LaVercombe.
To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official TIFF synopsis: “Miriam is a woman treading water in an unhappy marriage who hopes to find solace in a weekend reunion with her estranged younger sister, Greta (Anna Maguire), at a secluded cottage estate. Along with their respective husbands, Miriam’s brooding partner Caleb (Obi Abili) and Greta’s affable Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe), they find themselves navigating a minefield of one another’s sensitivities and histories, culminating in a traumatic series of betrayals – the root of which is a deeply unsettling act of sexual violence.”
VIOLATION is as visually beautiful as it is emotionally raw and unyielding in the themes presented. The film features an opening that could easily draw parallels from the beautiful work of a Monet painting. However, as the film ventures deeper into the story, the beauty fades away and the viewer is enveloped by a cold palette to indicate the atrocious and unforgivable action that has took place. The two opposing color schemes not only differentiate between two time periods but also helps the viewers understand the non-linear storyline better. When the inevitable occurs, our directing duo shoots the scene in a way that is not gratuitous and for that, I’m thankful. VIOLATION could easily be categorized within the “rape-revenge” subgenre though it separates itself by not glorifying the savage brutality of sexual violence that so many films in that subgenre do.
Leading the charge is Madeleine Sims-Fewer who gives one of the best performances of the year. As co-writer, she has lived with this character – a character who we come to learn is quite “flawed”. However, that’s the power of this story and is a huge drive for the narrative. Womxn and mxn who have spoken out about sexual violence typically find their lives combed through by others in hope that they can find clues to justify the behavior of the perpetrator and to downplay the victim’s statement. God forbid you aren’t perfect for your sins will be on full display – something that Miriam must contend both with her husband and her sister. As for the rest of the cast, they too give outstanding performances which help the viewer to better understand the dysfunctional dynamic between all the characters.
VIOLATION is a chilling and distressing film that is also immensely cathartic. It features moments of shocking brutality against a whimsical backdrop filled with picturesque shots of nature that allows for an interesting dichotomy for all that unfolds. VIOLATION may not be easy to watch because of the subject matter but it’s a film that demands to be seen to better understand the horrific crimes that so many people experience at the hands of someone they love.