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TIFF 2020 Review: Violation

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Image Courtesy of TIFF

“Just kill it, it’s only going to bite you later on.” Words spoken early in Violation haunt the film that follows, a unique and visceral look at human trauma and cruelty.

Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) are on their way to visit her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) at an isolated cottage.  On the way, Miriam and Caleb bicker and seem uncomfortable, signs of their marriage troubles that are accompanying them.  In contrast, on arrival Greta and Dylan are warm and easy with one another.

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The four begin what is to be a week of rest and relaxation, swimming in the lake and drinks by the fire. Yet the dynamics within the group are constantly shifting. The two sisters oscillate between affection, vulnerability and rivalry, a strange chemistry and history between Miriam and Dylan is also evident. But when a vicious and brutal action occurs within the foursome Miriam is forced to make extreme decisions on how far she is willing to go for revenge.

Written and directed by the aforementioned Sims-Fewer as well as Dusty Mancinelli, Violation is an unsettling and startling examination of Miriam’s psyche.  While many films would end with the final act of catharsis Violation instead stays with Miriam for a full 48 hours surrounding the vengeful deed. As such, aided by Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s methodical and deliberate performance, we are privy to a full portrait of her painful experiences, forced to watch as she deals with the psychological toll of betrayal and retribution.

The filmmakers weave together two separate timelines here.  The non-linear storytelling is effective in making you feel at first disoriented and then impressed at the film’s intricate construction. Each time transition seems exact and deliberate. Once the gruesome and chilling act of revenge truly begins they stick with it, unrelenting.  As Miriam meticulously performs her calculated plan there is no relief, just as she is offered none.

This unique approach to telling this story of revenge means Violation avoids many of the typical horror/thriller tropes that can plague this genre, ultimately elevating the film.  Yet there are moments that the interspersed nature clips seem slightly excessive and repetitive making their finished project ultimately feel just a little lengthy.  None of that can take away however from their overall successful creation of an uncomfortable, chilling and complex narrative that questions the very basis of revenge and if it’s worth the toll it takes.

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