SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Violation is a new take on the revenge fantasy/ horror-thriller genre starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who also co-wrote and co-directed. Miriam (Sims-Fewer) is a frustrated and fragile soul in a loveless, disintegrating marriage with Caleb (Obi Abili). Miriam decides that she wants to make amends with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) after a period of estrangement. Greta and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) agree to spend a weekend together at a cabin.
As the four settle into a strained group dynamic, the only people who truly seem at ease together are Miriam and Dylan. They had been friends before Greta and Dylan got married. In fact, Miriam was the one who introduced them. The old friends pick up where they left off—an easy, practiced chemistry between them. Greta and Miriam are not comfortable with each other, and the tension between them spirals into destructive sniping almost immediately.
Late one evening, Dylan commits the first of two unforgivable acts. After a night of excessive drinking around a campfire, Miriam indulges a momentary impulse and kisses Dylan. They laugh it off, and he tells her not to worry about it, that, in his opinion, there is darkness in everyone. He says, “Everybody’s at least medium sh*tty.” They then both collapse into a semi-stupor. Miriam wakes from her boozy slumber to Dylan undressing her. When she says, “Don’t. Stop,” he hears, “Don’t stop,” and he doesn’t, raping her by the fire.
His second transgression comes when she confronts him about it the next day. Instead of being remorseful, he is defensive and insists they were both trashed, and it was just a thing that happened that shouldn’t have, but that they were both equally responsible.
“…Miriam wakes from her boozy slumber to Dylan undressing her.”
Later, Miriam asks him to meet her in a room she’s found. When he arrives, she allows him to believe she wants to have sex again. She asks him to describe what happened at the campfire. He paints the event as an exciting dalliance and tells her how much he’s looking forward to doing it again. She blindfolds him and asks him to pleasure himself for her, and he complies. He still thinks this is a sex romp when she hits him full force on the temple with an aluminum baseball bat.
What follows is several connected scenes depicting his gruesome murder and dismemberment. This ranks among the most psychologically horrific scenes to have ever been filmed. It’s sickening to see, made worse by how quietly it all happens. There’s no triumphant release for Miriam in this act. Violation isn’t meant to be a morality play. We aren’t supposed to decide that Miriam is standing in for our revenge fantasies, nor that she’s justified in what she does. Rather this is literally flipping the script to a place where men suffer consequences for sexual assault.
Sims-Fewer and her co-director Dusty Mancinelli have wrapped the entire enterprise, like body parts, in the trappings of an art film. The production quality is lovely. The lighting and weather, beautiful nature images, and a brilliant atmospheric soundtrack convey an unearthly sense of strangeness and tension. Another element of blurred reality comes from the non-linear presentation of the scenes that give the film a nightmare quality, adding layers to the violence and horror.
Violation goes to savage, unexpected places. It’s an experience that will stay with you for days to come as you piece together what happened and how you feel about it.
Violation screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…an unearthly sense of strangeness and tension."