Violation | TIFF 2020 Review

by Andrew Parker

For better and worse, comparisons to the likes of Lars von Trier and Brian De Palma will be somewhat unavoidable when looking at Canadian writer-directors Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s atmosphere heavy first feature, the atypical revenge thriller Violation. It wears a sense of discomfort and slow-burning malice with great comfort, but while Violation has something important to say about believing women and male insensitivity, Fewer and Mancinelli are pushing the boundaries of permissiveness to the detriment of overall depth.

Miriam (Fewer) is a Londoner stuck in a faltering, loveless marriage to her increasingly stoic husband, Caleb (Obi Abili). They’re spending some time at a vacation home alongside Miriam’s livelier and somewhat estranged younger sister, Greta (Anna Maguire), and her charismatic husband, Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). There’s something eating away at Miriam that she wants to tell her sister, but due to past interactions they usually end up quarrelling.

Violation adopts a time shifting structure that pivots into suspense territory following a shocking and sudden act of violence that reveals the story’s true motivations. This turning point brings Fewer and Mancinelli’s work into sharper intellectual focus, but the narrative seems more keen on creating a sense of eerie misdirection than it does establishing and evolving most of its characters. At a certain point (and without giving much away), Violation goes off to examine the behaviours of two of its characters and neglects to do very much with the other equally linked parties.

The result is elevated, artfully made, and appropriately dreary looking grindhouse fare for the arthouse set, but outside of its sexually explicit and violent throughline, Violation ends up feeling rather empty. It’s a film that’s deliberately supposed to be depressing, stomach churning, and triggering, but the story being told has been done before in both sleazy and elevated tones. Choosing a spot somewhere in the middle and placing carefully crafted stylistic choices over emotion doesn’t do Violation many favours, but Fewer (who also gives a great leading performance) and Mancinelli deserve some credit for making a revenge thriller that will satisfy a blood lusty audience’s sense of justice while not making them want to cheer. (It also might be a bit too austere to fit in with the Midnight Madness section that it has been programmed into. If the Vanguard section still existed, Violation would be right at home in that programme.)

Violation screens at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival in theatres at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday, September 14 at 9:00 pm and 9:30 pm. It will be available to stream for a limited time via Bell Digital Cinema on Thursday, September 17 starting at 6:00 pm. All online screenings at TIFF 2020 are geolocked to Canada. If seeing a film in theatres, remember to take all necessary precautions. Maintain social distancing, wear a mask, and stay home if you’re feeling under the weather.

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