TIFF 2020 Review: 'Violation' Mixes Heavy-Handed Symbolism with Harrowing Trauma

One of this year's TIFF Midnight Madness selections offers a searing look at sexual violence and trauma.
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When Violation first opens, it shows a wolf observing its dying prey. Accompanied by an ominous score, the opening sequence provides a heavy indication of the horrors that will follow while acting as an example of the picture’s ham-fisted symbolism. Even the title acts as another key reminder that the audience is not in for an easy sit.

The story follows Miriam, played by star/co-director/co-writer/producer Madeleine Sims-Fewer, as she and her boyfriend Caleb (Obi Abili) take part in a weekend reunion with her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta's husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) at a secluded cabin. As the getaway progresses, their leisurely activities become intercut with small sequences of a crawling spider while the same eerie score plays in the background. In addition, cinematographer Adam Crosby does a fine job at foreshadowing the cataclysmic dread that transpires by showcasing a blue color scheme. 

What was meant to be a tranquil getaway becomes disrupted by tensions amongst the quartet rooted in a harrowing act of sexual assault committed by Dylan against Miriam. An act that forces Miriam to seek revenge. During the pivotal sequence where Miriam does act on her vengeance, the glistening cinematography guises the scene’s discomfort. It also proves to be a stark contrast to the aforementioned assault scene which has a grainier look and is more claustrophobic with the camera closing in on Miriam’s face, forcing the audience to feel agony like she does. 

As for Madeleine Sims-Fewer as Miriam, she proves to be a quiet powerhouse. Violation serves as a strong showcase for her acting talents while the other actors are quite underutilized. Obi Abili is given nothing to do as Caleb and while Anna Maguire makes the sisterly tension between Miriam and Greta appear genuine, her role still isn’t as expansive as it could’ve been. The picture is meant to chiefly be about Miriam and her struggle to find catharsis after experiencing a life-altering event, yet it would’ve also benefited from offering a deeper exploration of her relationships with those close to her. 

In all fairness, Greta and Caleb remaining largely absent does capture Miriam’s feeling of isolation. How she wants to express what happened to her but can’t seem to get through to either of them. Besides the act itself, Miriam being left to her own devices is what gives Violation its fright factor. Moreso than the symbolic predatory animal sequences and the effective score which do give Violation a fine filmmaking aesthetic, yet almost undercut the weight of the storyline.

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