How do you put a new spin on revenge horror? These filmmakers did.

Violation was one of the last films I caught during Sundance. I went in fairly unprepared, and boy, was it an experience that left me reeling. The revenge thriller follows Miriam, who is staying with her husband, sister, and brother-in-law at a lakeside cabin when a sexual assault throws her world off-kilter. The film is a raw look at rape and retribution, and also at how trauma can make people do unthinkable things.

There are moments in the movie that are shocking in their realism—and they are not brief. These filmmakers want you to sit with discomfort and reckon with these characters’ actions.

The film is written, produced, and directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli. Sims-Fewer also stars as the lead character. They’ve drawn comparisons to Lars von Trier for this work, and they’ll certainly be filmmakers we want to keep an eye on. Previously teamed on short films, this is their first feature.

The filmmakers spoke with No Film School ahead of SXSW 2021 and the film’s wide release on Shudder. They answered questions about the development of the film and what it was like to work with a life-size body double of one of their actors. Get into their insight below!

Warning: death, dismemberment, and spoilers for Violation follow.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: I’m sure you’re getting a lot of questions about this, but I’m really interested in the writing side of things and how you structured the story. I think, especially on a second viewing, you see how well you wove things together and how you can look at points from a different perspective.

Dusty Mancinelli: It’s a great question. So we wrote it non-linear, and it was really important to us to try to structure the film around Miriam’s emotional, psychological unraveling. And to really help the audience understand how her betrayal, the betrayal of her sister, the betrayal of her brother-in-law, and the lack of support that she receives from her husband really alienate her and put her into a position where she feels alone, powerless, and that this is her only recourse. And also, at the same time, we were really interested in this idea of recontextualization.

Madeleine Sims-Fewer: Yeah, we in all of our work—I think because we’re co-writers and we’re a man and a woman, we have these built-in different perspectives already. So we approach everything with these trying to really deepen each character, so while you may not like everything they do, you see no one is just a hero or just a villain. You get to know a character and you think you know what they’re all about and then we go back or forward in time and you see something that hopefully deepens your understanding of who they are as a person.

‘Violation’Credit: © 2020 DM FILMS INC.

Mancinelli: And it’s also a cautionary tale, and there’s really something quite tragic about the structure in that you know this person is going to die or is going to be chopped up. And you see this scene where he’s got this moment where he could do the right thing, he could turn it all around, and hearing the sound of that winch whining over his face is just so tragic. And because the movie is really designed to scare you into not wanting to seek revenge, and it’s all about the consequences of revenge, the structure really allowed us to communicate that idea.

Sims-Fewer: And even when we were writing the whole script, we were thinking about all of these moments where if someone had just done one thing differently, then none of this would happen. It was almost a sense of, we wanted to capture a sense of inevitability, but then you’re seeing these small tragedies just escalate into one massive tragedy.

Mancinelli: Yeah. And the film is really a visceral experience about this one woman’s trauma. So trying to mimic the post-traumatic stress that the body goes through, right from the very first frame of the movie, and have that carry throughout that energy. That feeling was really important to us. And again, the structure really helps with that because as someone who’s experienced trauma and abuse, you can have this sound or an image or a word that suddenly transports you back to that residual trauma that you feel.

‘Violation’Credit: © 2020 DM FILMS INC.

NFS: The first half of the film is a lead-up to that moment of revenge, and then the rest is dealing with it. I wondered what attracted you to seeing that process of her unraveling. Why did you want to explore that?

Sims-Fewer: We really love revenge movies, but they do tend to follow a similar emotional arc for the characters where the character’s traumatized near the beginning, and then they’re regaining their strength through the middle. And then at the end, they have the strength and the power to obliterate their rapist. And we really wanted to explore something where the revenge takes place quite early and then you see what might really happen to a person and to their morality, their sense of self, as they start to realize that perhaps the revenge is not going to bring them this catharsis that they hoped for.

Mancinelli: Yeah. So it’s really an anti-revenge film in many ways, because it’s not about wish fulfillment. And it’s this woman isn’t made whole because she’s killed her perpetrator. And I think that’s one of the problematic tropes of this subgenre is that the only way someone can be made whole is by enacting this brutal revenge. And we’re just far more interested in, well, what is the emotional psychological toll? How does it corrode your morality? How does it destroy the fabric of your relationships?

And that really meant putting it into the midpoint of the movie, because it’s not just about the revenge, it’s about the toll it takes on her and really showing you…


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