SXSW 2021: Violation Strikes a Grounded Chord

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Violation

Content Warning: Violation and this article feature discussion of rape

Violation is a rape-revenge thriller written and directed by Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer. Having previously screened at Sundance, the film stars Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili, Jasmin Geljo, and Cynthia Ashperger. As a subgenre, rape-revenge films are hit or miss depending on what the audience brings to it and how the film executes the tropes of the genre.

In Violation, Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer), a troubled woman on the edge of divorce, returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. While the film hits the familiar beats, it also chronicles the erosion of a familial bond and the heightened emotion that goes into the anger and pain that only someone who is supposed to protect you and understand you can inflict.

The start of Violation is joyous. It’s a communal enjoyment of nature and closeness. Then, it’s not. Accompanied with a score of strings, the orchestral background changes to shrieking strings that build an air of dread as the picture inverts and changes, creating an uncomfortable distortion for the viewer. These moments are cut into what seems like a normal sibling story. Cutting from sisterly arguments to ominous close-ups of a body. The film switches between different times, with the characters’ looks changing as well, a sharp change in color palette and sound each time.

Violation excels because of how Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli tell Miriam’s story. The narrative here isn’t linear and because of that, the act and the revenge happen out of time and place. We learn bits and pieces of the rape and the gaslighting afterward out of sequence. This works in the film’s favor because we process Mariam’s trauma with her. She moves through it without a sense of time, and so, the audience also sees things out of order. We’re left to question what is real, what is not, and what place in the story it happens.

The film at its core isn’t just about the act of sexual violence, it’s about the way the violation continues like ripples throughout your life. The way it continues to touch you no matter much you try to recover. It’s about the way trauma stays. Rape isn’t just a violation of a body, but something much deeper.

This is shown not only when Miriam confronts her rapist, but also when she confronts her sister. They both gaslight her. They both blame her. They both violate another element of trust. This is most pronounced in her choice to seek vengeance against her sister and not her rapist.

When the rape happens, it’s shown, nearly in its entirety. But unlike others shown in the genre, it isn’t traditionally violent. It isn’t the scene from Revenge or I Spit on Your Grave, but it’s no less brutal. While others in the genre have focused on creating a visually brutal scenario, Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli create a more personal violation. One that is slow, one without blood, one that just goes until it stops. That is more menacing. It’s what makes Violation so viscerally unnerving because the assault Miriam experiences isn’t sensationalized. It’s something that will look familiar to women watching the film, the fear of someone you’re supposed to trust violating that sacred boundary and the fear that comes with the silence you’re pushed into afterward.

Because of this, the violence with which Miriam uses to take her revenge feels even more cathartic. It captures the pain of that moment. One that her rapist refused to acknowledge as anything other than a fantasy for him. It’s a reclamation of power. But at the same time, she isn’t written without her pain coming to the surface. She doesn’t relish in her retribution. In fact, it wounds her in a different way. Catharsis can be painful.

That said, as the film goes on into its final act, the pain that Miriam emoted changes into a calm resolve that reveals the methodical nature with which she planned her act of revenge. By showcasing not only the act of self-imposed justice but also the aftermath, Violation becomes grounded in the entire process of grief, anger, and retribution that serves as a cycle for many rape-revenge films.

Overall, Violation is stunning, heartbreaking, and cathartic. As a story about the bonds we make and how they’re betrayed, the film is a success. In its bleak ending, it shirks the idea of rape-revenge thrillers, offering a bleak and open ending that reflects reality. It’s an ending of silence and sadness and somehow, it works. A cold ending, one that delivers revenge with a somber note, but served nonetheless.

Violation was screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and is streaming exclusively on Shudder March 25, 2021.

Violation
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Violation is stunning, heartbreaking, and cathartic. As a story about the bonds we make and how they’re betrayed, the film is a success. In its bleak ending, it shirks the idea of rape-revenge thrillers, offering a bleak and open ending that reflects reality. It’s an ending of silence and sadness and somehow, it works.