I have to admit, since hearing all of the buzz back in 2020 at the Toronto International Film Festival I’ve been anticipating this film. Not only have I got a soft spot for Canadian films, but I also adore a good twisted story and I was assured going into this that twisted is an understatement. Before diving into the film, I just want to issue a Sexual Assault trigger warning as well as light spoilers.
Violation follows Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer), a woman in a failing marriage who travels with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) to stay at a cottage on the lake with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) after years of not seeing each other due to distance. After a drunken night, Miriam finds herself waking up to Dylan sexually assaulting her and not being able to stop it along with her sister blaming her for the event; leaving Miriam with complete loss, trauma, and pain to dissect and try coping with on her own. With no one on her side, she foils up a sick and violent plan of revenge.
There’s a pretty large divide in opinions when it comes to rape revenge stories. We’ve seen films that have exploited women on screen in ways just for pure shock value in rape scenes, take the I Spit on Your Grave series and Last House on The Left (1972). Not to just call these two films out, jarring sexual assault scenes are littered through television and film, have been for decades. While I do agree that these stories are important to tell, they also have to be handled with care and not just for shock value or to feed off of such a horrific act already. This is an area where Violation succeeds. I personally find rape scenes distasteful and believe you can showcase an assault without actually showing all of it on screen, but the way they never actually centred on the act and concentrated on her reaction and the way her thoughts were being conveyed on her face instead was well done. There was a clear respect the filmmakers had with the topic that was shown on screen. Yes it was graphic but more mentally. It’s never easy to watch scenes like this or even listen to them be talked about; but the realism of the moment, the way this wasn’t completely violent but instead a complete violation of her trust and body was a great depiction. Dylan genuinely didn’t see what he did as wrong and that is how a lot of assault cases can go down.
As for the revenge aspect, I was absolutely not prepared for how grotesque and brutal it was going to be. Without spoiling what happens, I just have to comment on the practical effects, the unpredictability and how completely game these actors were with what they had to do. It was incredibly smart and thought out with its storytelling and somehow made such an extreme scenario so believable. Jesse LaVercombe is fantastic as Dylan during the second half but co-writer and co-director Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s performance as Miriam is something that needs to be praised and talked about. This performance is so raw and uncomfortable, she absolutely nailed every scene, every line and every expression. I was in awe of her performance and the commitment to the character and story itself, it was really quite impressive.
When it comes to the strongest attributes, the cinematography, score and editing are the film’s greatest features. The way this was filmed and the use of the landscape was pretty breathtaking. I caught myself entranced in the imagery for most of its runtime which was good because although it’s a good film, I did find that it dragged on for a moment towards the end when I felt that the resolution came a bit too early. But even with that said, it gave them time to focus on the emotional turmoil instead of consistent body horror.
Violation is just a great horror film. Madeleine Sims-Fewer along with co-writer and director Dustin Mancinelli have crafted a haunting and brutal story of revenge, re-inventing this twisted revenge subgenre with a film that captures the trauma of afterwards without needing to show its central character as some broken and battered woman. I recommend this film to those who are able to stomach hard violence and gore, as well as those who can handle any triggered feelings or trauma.
Now streaming on Shudder (in the US).
Now available at TIFF Digital in Canada.