I have a love-hate relationship with rape-revenge films, which is probably fairly common among women who are horror fans. Madeline Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation isn’t explicitly a horror, but it’s grisly enough to be horror-adjacent, and I didn’t hate it at all.
The love in this relationship is for the revenge part. The grand majority of people in the world who aren’t cisgender men have been sexually assaulted, and we very rarely report it to the police. We don’t report because we know there will be no consequence for the perpetrator, and that we will be forced to relive the experience, only to have it minimized by those listening. So a good revenge narrative can fill an emotional hole many of us carry around; a wound from our assaults, but also the emptiness of the aftermath. Violation especially addresses this minimization, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it portrayed as well in a film of any genre.
The hate part of my relationship with the sub-genre is that the rape itself is usually a very long, drawn-out scene where the violence is lascivious, as if the male filmmakers were enjoying themselves a bit too much. Women filmmakers tend to treat rape differently. (I have yet to see a rape-revenge film made by a non-binary filmmaker, but if one exists, I need to know immediately.)
In Violation, one of the two filmmakers – Sims-Fewer, who also plays the protagonist, Miriam – is a woman, and it shows. The rape is quiet. There’s no screaming, no blood. It’s an easily-minimizable incident. Except it can’t be minimized by the woman who experiences it, or by the people watching the film who have experienced something similar. In it’s own way, it’s more horrific than all the I Spit on Your Graves put together.
One of my favourite things about Violation was how it flips the script on the lascivious nature of most rape-revenge movies. In other films of this type, the audience would usually see a lot of the victim’s exposed flesh; sometimes she’s dressed sexily to begin with, she almost always has her clothes ripped off during the assault, and she stays semi-naked while exacting her revenge. In Violation, Miriam is fully clothed the entire time while her assaulter (Jesse LaVercombe’s Dylan) is shown with full frontal nudity for long after the rape, and throughout the revenge sequence. In fact, the scene depicts his erect penis – something I’ve never seen on screen outside of porn before, and which evokes an incredible (and perhaps unsettling) sense of realness. I’ve often bemoaned how scenes can feel inauthentic by a camera carefully avoiding below-the-waist shots (or by people waking up in the morning with perfect makeup, but that’s a different complaint.) Violation’s erection is so visceral, it makes the gruesome stuff that comes next seem all the more genuine.
The film is set in Quebec’s lush forest, and even the summer scenes feel cold, with the chill of the characters’ resentment for each other manifested in the bleak tones of the cinematography. So it’s fitting that the final scene is an autumn ice cream party. The weather seems inappropriate for ice cream, but in Violation, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Madeline Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation plays as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema, which is happening virtually until October 31. You can purchase a virtual screening ticket at this link.