Violation review — An empty effort at art house horror

Written and Directed by Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer | 107 min | Shudder and VOD | ▲△△△△

I had a discussion and disagreement with a fellow film reviewer recently. They admitted to not being a fan of high-brow scares, the arthouse-invading “elevated horror” pictures like The Babadook or Hereditary or Saint Maud. Instead, they preferred the slasher horror, those low-rent gorefests that inevitably spawn multiple sequels and then get spoofed and celebrated in the Scream movies. For them, that scary sub-genre is more honest about its ambitions and less mired in something that they say takes away from what makes horror great.

I don’t share their perspective. I tend to enjoy those more psychological horror movies that they find a bit much.

Having watched Violation, I can now, finally, see their point.

The film is cabin-in-the-woods set, so you’d think it might have more in common with slasher horror, but in fact it’s suffused with the influence of Lars von Trier — like the world needs more of that particular brand of nihilism.

It’s about a woman (Sims-Fewer) on the verge of serious mental illness who’s come some distance to visit with her sister (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law (Jesse LaVercombe), but things go very badly between them. What starts as a grim indie drama becomes a spectacularly bleak rape-revenge picture. More than that about the plot I won’t say, for those determined to experience the film.

I will report that Violation does things I find indigestible in my cinematic diet.

It’s thuddingly heavy-handed and dull with its visual metaphors.  It features an entirely unsympathetic cast of alternately appalling and irritating characters — protagonist, antagonist, or support. They’re all abysmal human beings, no one you want to spend time with. And the film goes ahead and indulges in the single worst crime of indie cinema: the chronic, sick-making hand-held camera. About halfway in I was hate-watching the picture with teeth gritted.

The few elements I appreciated were scenes of surprising gore and violence, moments where one character’s hurt and rage is unleashed. Later on we get a character’s effort to dispose of a body and a refreshing, almost comedic awkwardness in all of that. When Violation cleaves to a more pragmatic kind of exploitation, the material is lifted. For a brief time it’s free of the pretension that makes the rest of it so tiresome.

I can see the argument that the filmmakers are trying to deliver to their audience a smidgen of the revolting emotion of genuine physical violence — the title then apropos. Maybe. It doesn’t work for me, either way.

Yup, I finally get where my fellow reviewer is coming from.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.