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Madeleine Sims-Fewer appears in <i>Violation</i> by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by One Plus One.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’21] ‘Violation’ review: Female revenge tale is more about the trauma

Inverting the male gaze.


Violation is part of a new wave of female revenge thrillers. These films visit ideas that exploitation films of the 1970s used purely for titillation. Writer-directors Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s film is more than a gory showcase that fetishizes rape. The story follows Miriam (played by Sims-Fewer) who is in an unhappy marriage. A lakeside cabin weekend with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) seems like a good idea until a shocking encounter.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli let the camera focus on events and scenes to the point of being too long. This brings an incredible amount of tension to Violation. An atmosphere of uncertainty constantly hangs in the air as moments play out to their conclusion. A talk between Miriam and Dylan by a campfire is one the film’s most suspenseful moments.

Sims-Fewer does a magnificent job as the traumatized Miriam. The revenge scenes in Violation are absolutely brutal, but just as shocking is the emotional damage she wears like a coat. Each time Miriam is on screen, she is filled with anger and shame. She has been scarred permanently. The film is unafraid to show the destructive power of even righteous rage.  This is most evident in a confrontation she has with a couple outside of a motel.

[Sundance '21] 'Violation' review: Female revenge tale is more about the trauma

Though it is not necessary to invert the male gaze to subvert ugly tropes, doing so can make a very powerful statement. In what are possibly Violation’s most powerful moments, that is exactly what Mirian does. It is a visceral moment that plays off of decades of naked women being slaughtered by fully clothed men. There is almost a satisfying feeling to see this film’s take on that trope.

The story is told in a sometimes confusing nonlinear fashion. Time never being specified is the main reason this can be so difficult. Once the story starts moving along, it does become more clear what is going on. Violation drops plenty of clues to help audiences out and the editing does a good job of telling its multilayered story. The closing moments of the film fall into this trap once again before leading to its delicious ending.

Violation is a beautiful movie. There are a number of shots that show off the lush landscapes. The film uses landscapes and animals to add to the atmosphere. This is cleverly done though sometimes it gives things a bloated feel. For years rape revenge movies were used to objectify women and glorify violence. Violation never does either. It turns old gender roles on their head and shoots the rape scene is a way that does not exploit. 

Violation premieres on Shudder March 25

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