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▶︎ Violation is streaming on Shudder.

Rape-revenge films have a long and controversial history as they have evolved and adapted to the times. In The Virgin Spring (1960 – inspired by Rashomon, 1950), a father avenges his daughter. The Last House on the Left (1972, remade 2009) shows both parents inflicting violence. In I Spit on Your Grave (1978, remade 2010), a female survivor retaliates. Baise-moi (2000) offered catharsis while Irreversible (2002) played with its timeline and challenged the notion of revenge – something it has in common with Violation. In the last decade, American Mary (2012), M.F.A. and Revenge (both 2017) have toyed with the subgenre, and Promising Young Woman has pushed it into the mainstream.

In Violation, Madeleine Sims-Fewer stars as Miriam, who with her husband Caleb has travelled from London to Canada to a secluded cabin in the woods to reunite with her sister Greta and her partner Dylan. While there, Miriam is raped.

In their daring feature debut Dusty Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer, who co-write and co-direct, blend fairytale symbolism and drama into a nonlinear narrative that plays with time and sympathies to confront and lament the destructive impact of revenge. The film deals with trauma, truth, justice and consent, occasionally referencing rape-revenge films through its visuals, structure and dialogue while also recalibrating the subgenre’s dynamics. Revenge is shown before the rape, with the audience left waiting to be presented with all the facts and weigh up the evidence.

Anna Maguire as Greta and Madeleine Sims-Fewer as Miriam in Violation

The filmmakers don’t oversimplify their characters or their actions, serving up a stomach-churning and meticulously written tragedy that rejects the fantasy of revenge. Thanks to a compelling performance from Sims-Fewer, Miriam’s pain is a raw and visceral presence that ebbs and flows into focus throughout the film. As time skips between before, during and after the assault, her transformation into avenger is heightened with potent sound design and score.

The rape is eventually shown in hazy close-up, in a vastly different manner to Irreversible. The killing of the rapist is shown in painstaking detail in a lengthy and harshly lit scene. The explicit body disposal further compounds Miriam’s anguish as she holds her own hair back to vomit and suffers in suffocating silence and isolation.

As in You Were Never Really Here (2017), the flashbacks are key to understanding Miriam’s psychological state and her strained relationships with her sister and husband. Everything is shown from Miriam’s point of view, but the conflicting subjective perspectives of each player as they come to terms with the gravity of the situation prove slippery.

Further reading

You Were Never Really Here review: Lynne Ramsay makes pointillist poetry from hard-boiled brutalism

By Kate Stables

You Were Never Really Here review: Lynne Ramsay makes pointillist poetry from hard-boiled brutalism

Film of the week: Elle – far deeper (and more disquieting) than a rape-revenge thriller

By Adrian Martin

Film of the week: Elle – far deeper (and more disquieting) than a rape-revenge thriller

The Freudian revenge of David Lean’s Madeleine

By Brad Stevens

The Freudian revenge of David Lean’s Madeleine

The Nightingale review: a haunting, nightmarish tale of a woman’s take-no-prisoners revenge

By Nikki Baughan

The Nightingale review: a haunting, nightmarish tale of a woman’s take-no-prisoners revenge

Sight and Sound November 2021

50 years after its release, we reveal the untold stories behind A Clockwork Orange, as seen through the relationship between author Anthony Burgess and director Stanley Kubrick + Edgar Wright on Last Night in Soho, Jeymes Samuel on The Harder They Fall, Małgorzata Szumowska on Never Gonna Snow Again, Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground, the best of Venice and much more…

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Originally published: 5 May 2021