‘Violation’ Review: An Eye-Opening Debut Feature
By Daniel Rester
The rape-revenge subgenre of horror is one of the toughest to stomach. It’s often difficult to see female characters go through such pain before the antagonists get their punishment. The subgenre isn’t anything new, with some films from it even becoming horror classics, such as The Last House on the Left (1972).
There has been a bit of a resurgence of the subgenre lately, with films like Revenge (2018) and Promising Young Woman (2020) gaining attention. Now we have Violation, a shocking entry in the subgenre that also marks the feature directorial debuts of Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer. Unlike the colorful films Revenge and Promising Young Woman that offer a certain catharsis, Violation is a more understated and realistic take on the subgenre that will leave you unsettled long after the credits roll.
Sims-Fewer also takes lead role duty as Miriam. Her and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) are going through a low point in their marriage when they visit her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta’s husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). One night by a campfire, someone sexually assaults Miriam. I won’t spoil who. This event leaves Miriam shaken and she sets out for revenge on the person months later.
Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer, who also wrote the script together, take an approach to Violation that’s artistic but never flashy. They never lose focus of the realism of Miriam’s trauma even when they occasionally detour to some strange shot choices; there’s upside down sky shots and metaphorical shots of a wolf eating a rabbit. They use a cold green and blue color palette and eerie and rainy wooded settings. They also aren’t afraid to linger on gruesome actions with stagnant shots, building up the tension as we stay with Miriam and her decisions. I definitely thought a bit about Lars von Trier and Funny Games (1997) while seeing such style unfold.
All of the acting is strong in Violation, though Abili isn’t given too much to do as the estranged husband. Sims-Fewer is powerful as Miriam, unafraid to show the character’s pain and humanity. The character is never made to be a badass who takes revenge in action-packed and empowering ways. Instead she takes it slowly and quietly, and with some hurdles in the way. Even after it’s done, the trauma lingers and there isn’t a sense of catharsis. That’s precisely what makes Violation feel more real compared to its counterparts. That, and in how it shows predatory men trying to blame the victim.
The horror of the revenge scene in Violation is shockingly graphic but never unbelievable. It also boldly involves seeing an erect penis on screen for an extensive time, yet this doesn’t feel excessive because of the staging of the situation at hand. Violation often feels more like a drama than horror, but it definitely becomes horror once this scene plays out. I won’t forget the bloody and haunting visuals of the revenge scene anytime soon. In contrast, the rape scene is played in an understated way where we hardly see anything happening, yet it is just as hard-hitting because of what is implied through sound design and eye movement shots. Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer show intelligent directorial vision with both of these standout scenes.
There are many other well-staged scenes too, though the editing can be jarring as the plot moves around between past and present — and often with little warning. Some visuals are shown early on and seem to make no sense, yet they reward audience members later on if they paid attention. Other moments just seem out of place altogether though and feel like speed bumps in the plot. So, the non-linear storytelling here is at times gripping and at other times sloppy.
Violation isn’t going to win any feel-good movie awards, and I’m not sure it’s a film I ever want to revisit. That’s not because it’s a bad movie, but rather because it’s so well-crafted in its realistic depiction of trauma after a sexual assault. Revenge and Promising Young Woman are rape-revenge films I could watch again because there’s a certain sense of release when they conclude. Violation doesn’t provide that sort of catharsis. It sticks with you, much like Miriam’s pain even after she concludes her revenge.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 47min