Written & Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli
I have not seen A Promising Young Woman, but I think this film covers the same ground and goes a lot more extreme than what I know of that picture. It isn’t a success, though, and ultimately I felt very cold and unmoved, which was not what I expected going into the film. Violation is undoubtedly stylish in its structure and visual choices, and I think they distracted from the humanity of the characters for me. I’m never one to shy away from a brutal and incendiary film because, at the end of the day, it will evoke some emotion. Sadly, what I felt most after this picture was boredom and a distance from the characters. There are some fabulously well-acted moments, but overall, the movie falls apart.
Miriam (Madeline Sims-Fewer) travels with her boyfriend Caleb to visit her sister Greta at her lake house. Greta has been married to Dylan, a childhood friend of the girls, for a few years now, and they have a happy relationship. Miriam and Caleb are on the verge of collapse as he points out how she talks behind people’s backs and is so negative in moments where he tries to find something happy to talk about. There’s a complex history between Miriam and Greta as well, going back to how Miriam would violently defend her sister’s honor in a way that was more about the girl’s ego than her sibling’s protection. Everything changes one night when Miriam and Dylan fall asleep by a campfire out in the woods while their partners slumber in the lake house. This leads to some horrifying events years later as Miriam tries to settle a score.
Violation is told out of chronological order, and I usually would be okay with that if it served a purpose that helped the narrative. I just couldn’t figure out why the directors chose to do this. I get that it builds tension to a degree, but that is not enough justification, in my opinion, to structure a film like that. Non-sequential storytelling is excellent when you show different perspectives so that the audience can be illuminated about a single moment seen through different eyes. It worked in something like Memento because it’s a conceit of the character that has a justification in the story. I just could not parse why Violation is told in this manner.
It’s also a shame that the characters are underwritten. There are many slow, contemplative shots, but they fill up the time and lead to a lack of scenes that illuminate who these people are. I understood the relationship between Miriam and Greta best, but beyond that, the characters and their connections are very minimal. Because of what happens, I think it would have benefitted the story to have us build strong emotional bonds with these four people so that when the horrible events occur, we can feel it more. The actors are giving it their all, and Sims as Miriam is especially good. She has a lot to carry in the picture. I just wonder if a lot of what she saw in the character didn’t end up in the script she wrote but stayed in her head.
Visually the movie is stunning. It doesn’t move away from some brutal moments and forces the audience to linger on the gore and viscera. As I said above, we don’t get a strong emotional connection to the characters, and I think that would have helped make this violence more impactful beyond simply shock value. I certainly felt a pallor of sadness as it went down because it’s clear these things aren’t being done with an ounce of satisfaction. However, I wish I felt more after getting to know and understand these characters better. The cinematographer provides a bleak palette that suits the movie perfectly. We’re given close-ups on details of nature that create this damp, rainy mood. The inciting incident is filmed in a manner that refuses to exploit what is happening, which was the right choice. I just wish this had been a better movie because, on paper, it has all the elements to be something genuinely affecting.