TIFF 2020: Violation, Shadow in the Cloud | Festivals & Awards

TIFF 2020: Violation, Shadow in the Cloud | Festivals & Awards

On to the good stuff. I’ll start with Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s unflinching and brutal “Violation,” a film that doesn’t shy away from its dark subject matter and doesn’t fall into the typical traps of its often-exploitative subgenre, the rape revenge thriller. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli open their film with a slo-mo shot of a wolf chewing on a rabbit, but the film isn’t a traditional story of a betrayed woman overcoming trauma through violence. Movies about vengeance over sexual violence often feel shallow in how they capture both the actual inciting incident and the retaliation, but Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli drown their film in devastating pain. None of this is right. None of this is good. None of this is redeeming. It’s a film washed in pain and fractured mental states, amplified by a time-jumping narrative that actually makes the movie more powerful instead of less. I’ve seen a lot of films lately that play with chronology, but it makes more sense here as the rape and the vengeance become intertwined.

Sims-Fewer also stars as Miriam, and gives a fantastic performance as a woman who in a relatively unhappy marriage with a man named Caleb (Obi Abili). In the opening scenes, we see them go to a weekend retreat at a cabin with Miriam’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta’s husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Everyone seems to be getting along fine but then Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli jump to another timeline in which Greta and Miriam are fighting about something. These relationships are strained. And then they place what would be the climactic scene in most linear vengeance thrillers right in the center of the piece, a stunning sequence in which Miriam, well, putting it into words wouldn’t really do it justice.

“Violation” got me thinking about other rape vengeance thrillers that typically turn the act into one of reclaimed power. That’s inherently going to be a part of any of these films, but the tone from Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli here feels less celebratory and more deeply melancholic. The film is filled with minor decisions that lead to the major, violent ones that define it, both within the story and the filmmaking. It’s a smart, emotionally shattering piece of work.

Finally, there’s a film with pretty much the exact opposite tone but a similar throughline of believing women, whether they’re telling you about an assault or a gremlin on the wing of a plane. Yes, Roseanne Liang’s “Shadow in the Cloud” is basically the “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” episode of “The Twilight Zone” blended with “Aliens,” and parts of it are exactly as fun as that elevator pitch sounds. This is some goofy, wacky storytelling, and most of it works, coming in at a stealthy 82 minutes to wow you with impossible action sequences and send you on your way. The crowd at the Ryerson in Toronto would have been screaming.


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