VIFF review: Violation shows us the horrible cost of revenge

The first feature from Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli follows a woman working through trauma as horribly as possible

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      Violation (Canada) 107 min. Streaming online at the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival from September 24 to October 7 at VIFF Connect

      Having not seen each other in a while, two couples—estranged sisters Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and Greta (Anna Maguire), and their partners Caleb (Obi Abili) and Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe)—arrive for a restorative cottage weekend. Things are tense, but there might be hope of a reconciliation. And then Miriam sneaks away to meet Dylan, and does something very, very bad.

      That description might give you an impression of what sort of movie Violation is, but believe me: you have no idea. Unless you’re familiar with "Slap Happy", "Woman in Stall", and "Chubby", the short films Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli have made in the last few years…but Violation is a major levelling up of their signature combination of rage and intensity. Sexually explicit and unrelentingly gruesome, it’s a movie about a woman working her way through trauma as methodically and horribly as possible.

      Violation slips back and forth in time to show us the things with which Miriam is trying to deal, and they’re bad, but the movie asks us to wonder whether the nature of her response is really as disproportionate as it appears. The movie has already drawn comparisons to exploitation films like I Spit On Your Grave, but I see it more in line with Coraline Fargeat’s more recent Revenge, where the beats of the genre are interrogated in real time.

      Violation is about the effort required to do the thing Miriam is doing, once she commits to it: how physically demanding it is, how miserable it is, and how it isn’t the sort of thing one can just move beyond. Sims-Fewer’s performance is a catalogue of damage: we watch as Miriam registers new levels of hurt and horror over the course of the film, and it’s like compound interest is accruing on her soul.

      Violation is the one film at this year’s festival I really wish I could have experienced with a crowd, just to see how they’d have processed it.