SXSW 2021: VIOLATION Review – A Fragmented Tale of Retribution

Violation horror

Starring: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, and Jesse LaVercombe

Written by: Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer

Directed by: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli

Rape-revenge is a genre that I struggle with. Victim’s stories need to be told. But one must make sure that the story is being told in a way that doesn’t sensationalize the sexual assault or minimize the utter horror endured by survivors of this type of trauma. Otherwise, it can easily come across as glorification of abuse. One really need not convince the audience that rape is horrifying. And that is a fact that Violation co-writer/co-directors Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli are well aware of. 

Synopsis: Estranged sisters Miriam and Greta reunite upon Miriam’s return to her hometown. But when Greta’s husband Dylan takes liberties to which he is not entitled with Miriam, she snaps and fights back in an attempt to reclaim her power. 

Violation is filled to the brim with violent and shocking imagery but the sexual assault is depicted in the most respectful way possible. It doesn’t play out like a rape fantasy with lingering looks at the victim’s nude body. It’s largely composed of close-up face shots and lasts only as long as it absolutely must. 

I don’t think we need to convey how horrifying rape is to justify the revenge spree. I think we have an idea of just how damaging sexual trauma is and it’s good to see a shift from the triggering display of abuse that is so commonplace in the rape-revenge subgenre. 

Being male and having never endured sexual assault, I can’t know just what Miriam is feeling. But I can say that a more graphic assault wouldn’t have enhanced my appreciation of the film or made me more sympathetic to her plight. I hope filmmakers take a cue from Violation and recognize that the graphic depiction of rape isn’t always necessary to further the narrative of this type of film.  

Violation more than effectively conveys the ugly aftermath a trauma survivor endures. We see a character that wouldn’t harm an insect become so consumed with rage that she is driven to commit unspeakable violence. The arc of her character clearly illustrates the all-consuming effects of sexual trauma. The violence perpetrated against Miriam changed her in ways I can’t even fathom. 

In addition to delicately handling indelicate subject matter, Violation depicts what feels like a truly authentic relationship between sisters Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and Greta (Anna Maguire). They come across like actual siblings. Their interactions feature what comes across as authentic dialogue and not a screenwriter’s idea of how people talk. They have the natural chemistry of two people raised in the same household. The exchange where Miriam and Greta talk about the way their dad chopped wood made me smile and also felt like it could have been my little sister and me talking about our dad. 

Tasteful approach to depiction of trauma and stellar performances aside, where Violation lost me was with its fractured narrative. This is a situation where the sum of the film’s parts is greater than its whole. Co-directors Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli opted to tell Miriam’s story via a collection of scenes that jump back and forth and to-and-fro. Stylistically, it’s effective. The nonlinear timeline certainly gives the flick an artistic feel. But it’s wholly disorienting to watch as a viewer. We see the film bounce around so much that it nearly induces whiplash. 

See Also: Gender Bashing: The “Nice Girl” in REVENGE and in Rape-Revenge Cinema

Moreover, the disjointed timeline wreaks havoc on the film’s pacing, not to mention makes it difficult for the audience to string the events together in a cohesive fashion. Quite simply, the flick would have been better if told via a more cohesive narrative approach. 

Because of the nonlinear timeline, the retribution sequence is juxtaposed amidst a series of other events. So, the bulk of the revenge storyline is over with more than thirty-minutes left in the film. From there, we do see flashbacks to Miriam exacting brutal and calculated revenge on an unsuspecting Dylan but much of the impact is lost by breaking that pivotal sequence up.  

My other main quip is with co-directors’ Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s choice to show an erect penis. I don’t think of myself as a prude but I do believe that the use of nudity should be justified. And Seeing an unsuspecting Dylan’s erection before Miriam clubs him over the head doesn’t necessarily bring anything to the scene that would be noticeably absent sans erection. I suspect the idea may have been to illustrate just how vulnerable and unaware Dylan was in that moment. But I would argue that it could have been just as effectively conveyed with a flaccid member. 

All in, I enjoyed ViolationI think it takes the rape/revenge genre in a new, less exploitative direction. And the performances are quite inspired. If you enjoy a good retribution story, you can check it out on Shudder beginning March 25th.  

  • Violation


Violation benefits from great performances by its leads but is hindered by a fractured narrative.



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