Violation, the feature debut from filmmaking team Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, falls somewhere between Promising Young Woman and Irreversible on the rape-revenge film spectrum.
Like both of those films, it seeks to take a more critical position on revenge than most films in the genre. Like Promising Young Woman, it interrogates the difference between what women who experience abuse actually want and what some other women do for them in the name of justice, and whether those acts are more self-serving than anything else. Like Irreversible, it plays with time, and uses graphic violence and disorienting camerawork to instill a sense of chaos and inescapable anxiety for the viewer.
And like both Promising Young Woman and Irreversible, Violation seems more interested in the discussions that viewers will have after they’ve seen it than in simply being a good film.
There are a number of scenes where the characters feel more like mouthpieces than characters, even if the things that they are saying are real things that real people say. There are parallels and foreshadowing that are so perfectly set up that it feels as if the filmmakers want to make sure that the viewers “get it.” To be fair, the film isn’t entirely pedantic, as there are some attempts to address thorny issues of cyclical abuse and the ways in which some women affirm rape culture. Some of these scenes work better than others, but in each instance it still feels as though Violation is checking an idea box or covering a base on the ideological spectrum.
And yet, there’s enough in Violation’s form that makes it work as a genuinely disconcerting piece of cinema and not just a vehicle for ideas. There’s a lot here that’s clearly indebted to other films and filmmakers. Beyond the time play and brutal violence of Irreversible, the long slow-motion shots of wild animals devouring one another set to operatic singing bring to mind Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, the extreme close ups on bodies are reminiscent of the work of Claire Denis, and the frequent insert shots of insects are straight out of Coralie Fargeat’s recent rape-revenge film Revenge.
While some of these instances of obvious influence make it a bit hard to focus on Violation as its own film, on the whole these influences mesh well and make for an effectively upsetting experience. Particularly in the scene of the assault which focuses on fingers, eyes, and close ups of the two bodies, and in the chaotic and messy revenge sequence which instils a horror through the uncertainty of what will happen next.
But not everything in the form works in the film’s favor, either. The non-linear progression of time and the significant number of extreme close ups on objects in the aftermath of the revenge create a clearly purposeful but perhaps not entirely productive confusion. Much of the film struggles with this issue, both in its form and in the content of its conversations. It’s difficult to become fully invested in the story or engage with the ideas when you can so easily see the strings.
Violation is necessary viewing for any genre fan interested in the recent wave of rape revenge films written and directed by women (Sims-Fewer is a woman, Mancinelli is a man, they wrote and directed the film together and Sims-Fewer stars), and the violence is sure to satiate anyone interested in “hard to watch” films, but sadly it doesn’t reach the level of greatness that some of its influences have achieved.
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Violation is a disturbing and worthwhile entry into the current wave of rape-revenge films helmed by women, but it’s too didactic to allow the viewer to become fully invested.
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