Rape and Revenge in the Disturbing ‘Violation’ Offers no Catharsis

A still from 'Violation'. Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) is shown in close-up, soaked with rain, her face is gaunt, pale and vacant, her eyes piercing. She is a white woman in her 30s, short dark hair and wearing a blue shirt, she has a mole above her lip.

*CONTENT WARNING: Rape and sexual violence*

Rape revenge films are a divisive topic at the best of times. Opinions vary between seeing the films as a cathartic exercise and on the other hand that rape should never be used as a narrative vehicle. One of the great successes of the emergence of a new age of women horror filmmakers in the 2010s was seeing women reclaiming rape revenge films and infusing them with a new gaze. Both Revenge and Promising Young Woman presented their women-controlled narratives with a gaze entrenched in feminine wiles, pink and a bright aesthetic (absolutely not a criticism by the way). We see women enacting revenge and although they are working through their trauma, they revel in their violent acts: as an audience we clap with glee every time the rapist gets his comeuppance.

Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation is a very different kind of rape revenge film, one that spends less time with both the rape and revenge sections to grapple with the real emotions that arise from choosing the path of violence.

Sims-Fewer stars as Miriam, a psychologically troubled young woman who is incredibly loyal to her sister Greta (Anna Maguire). Miriam and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) travel to an isolated cabin to visit Greta and husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) for a weekend break. While Miriam deals with issues in her own relationship she is quick to project such concerns onto Greta, advising her to move back to the UK so they can live together again like they did as children.

Its an odd set-up. Miriam comes across as over-bearing, irrational and annoying. She frequently disrespects Caleb’s needs in their relationship and Greta’s ability to think for herself as an adult woman and she’s overly friendly with Dylan. Scenes play out of the couples interacting and the sisters spending time alone interspersed with violent vignettes of a wolf eating its prey and Miriam —now with cropped hair— moving through the forest with a vacant expression.

A still from 'Violation'. Two couples are shown in a lake, the entire image is tinted with blue, the two women are on top of the mens shoulders, holding hands over the gap and clearly trying to push one another off their partners.

During one drunken night by the fire a fatal mistake is made and the scene of the titular violation is set. As the victim, Miriam sees her only option as vengeance: a brutally unforgiving, torturously slow and explicit one at that. But this is where Violation differs; rather than seeing Miriam cocking a shotgun, taking to the forest in ripped underwear, baring her teeth or re-positioning the phallic object as a weapon of retribution, Miriam is in emotional anguish. Every thought process of her vengeance feels weighted, Sims-Fewer howls and screams with a mental pain as every drop of her violator’s blood drops to the floor. With each meticulous action she has planned out to cause him pain, her body coils back in disgust at the severity of what she is doing.

Running at 107 minutes, much of the film is spent as a drama, examining relationship dynamics between lovers and sisters. The rape itself refusing to engage with the voyeurism of the act itself, focusing on tight close-ups of skin and hair instead. The stark lack of sensationalism throughout most of the film only makes its highly disturbing crescendo all the more powerful. Violation is so disturbing in its pure human nature and struggle between right and wrong that it is quite unclear who this film is for — and if there would ever be any need to watch a film of its nature a second time. In fact, this might be its greatest success. As a fan of the rape revenge subgenre I can admit to multiple viewings of I Spit on Your Grave, Revenge or American Mary because the catharsis of the revenge is so satisfying to watch. But that does not change the fact that in order to feel that catharsis you have to sit through repeated viewings of incredibly violent scenes against women, almost making you complicit in the continued perpetuations of these narratives. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli know their angle, and communicate it so effectively that they don’t allow you to revel in the joy of a satisfying payoff. Cases surrounding rape and sexual violence are never so easy, not so simply wrapped up with a defiant, blood-streaked woman standing atop a mountain with no repercussions. Most victims would never even consider vengeance, let alone see it through. Miriam grapples with these life-altering decisions and the realities of ‘kill your rapist’.

Violation is a powerful exercise in vulnerability and violence and essential addition to the rape revenge canon that should be studied meticulously in future horror film academia.

Violation is available to stream on Shudder exclusively from March 25th

by Chloe Leeson

Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She works as a teacher in the GLAM sector and freelances as a costume designer and maker living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Green Room and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Letterboxd here.

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