There’s EVIL in the Saying, No Other Choice. “Violation” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



On the precipice of her loveless marriage ending, Miriam and her not-quite-yet estranged husband getaway to visit her sister, Greta, and husband, Dylan, at their quiet woodland and lakeside home, an area where Miriam and Greta fondly grew up together.  Also sharing a past together as high school friends, Miriam and Dylan enjoy each other’s company in a playful and quipping manner after a lifelong friendship, but after a night of drinking and an outpour of internalized emotions, Miriam slowly awakes to Dylan forcing his way inside her and is unable to stop him.  Confronting Dylan and Greta separately further strains the tense situation to the point that Miriam is made out to be the villain in her own sexual assault, sending Miriam to plot a thorough premediated revenge to not only avenge herself but also to save her sister still married to her attacker. 

Real hands-and-knees puked vomit splattering over a black tarp.  A blindfolded, naked man tied to a chair with a real erect penis saluting tall.  If you’ve never seen this Shudder exclusive 2020 released film and you’re reading this review opening fresh eyed, you might automatically presume Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s “Violation” a work of pure vomit gore and BDSM pornography.   Let me quickly put your mind at ease by saying “Violation” is nothing of the sort, but these unmistakable aspects in the Canadian revenge drama are real and explicit as a deep-seeded personal choice for the writing and directing duo’s first feature length project.  Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer’s collaborated history goes back to 2017 as they together write, direct, and produce a handful of short films with a core base of dysfunctional sexual themes in “Slap Happy,” “Woman in Stall,” and “Chubby,” to name a few in their credits.  “Violation” continues the trend, providing cathartic discussion for the filmmakers’ tabooed motif at an attempt at bold realism.  “Violation” is self-produced by Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli under their production banner, the Toronto-based DM Films, in association with Telefilm Canada and The Talent Fund with financing from the executive producer line of independents, such as François Dagenais (“Ankle Biters”), and the husband-wife duo of David Hamilton and Deepa Mehta of Hamilton-Mehta Productions.

In the lead of Miriam is the writer, director, and producer herself, Madeleine Sims-Fewer, succumbing to a characterized funneling toward piteous rock bottom within her role who, from the get-go, is already in hot water with a dissatisfied husband about their trip to see Miriam’s sister. There’s rarely any happiness for Miriam throughout, even amongst the contentious heart-to-hearts with her own sister, and the little designated of joy to her is quickly squashed by the narrative’s crux and then that’s when Sims-Fewer has to about face to a deeper austere level than even before when those closest to Miriam push her away and become her worst enemies in a blink of an eye. Those mercurial enemies are played by Anna Maguire as Miriam’s fickle younger sister Greta, reteaming with her “Forgotten Man” costar Obi Abili as Miriam’s distant husband Caleb and rounding out the cast as Miriam’s alleged rapist and Greta’s husband Dylan is Jesse LaVercombe who also previously worked on the directors’ short films “Slap Happy” and “Chubby.”  Sims-Fewer and Lavercombe really deserve praise for their dedication and courage that circles back to the beginning of this review about real puke and real erection.  There’s vulnerability when totally exposed and these two actors, who have tremendous chemistry, shy very little away from the uncomfortable provocations in hard to swallow scenes of realism.  We also know where Greta stands in the whole scheme of things, but a big plot hole obtrudes with Obi Abili’s Caleb who unexplainably vanishes in the latter half of the two part narrative.  There’s an unsaid presumption that Caleb left Miriam as already rocky marriage kept spiraling down the toilet in the first act, but there was no resolution, leaving the character out in the wind and neglected from the what could have been an interesting interplay of Miriam’s obsessive plot.

“Violation” is not the typical rape-revenge thriller where the victim rises from the ashes like a phoenix and has an insurmountable, if not endless, amount of hate and determination for street justice to see their rapist or rapists six feet under.  “Violation’s” slow burn method leans toward a character study with Miriam.  Her compassionate human side commingles with her victimized treatment and anger as she’s constantly and consistently second guessing her actions or feeling the utmost, sick-to-her-stomach remorse for her actions that needed to be done in order to avenge herself and also protect her sister as noted in a parallel dream she tells Greta about Miriam sitting in the next room while her sister is unintentionally self-strangulating.  Yet, another side to this tale that could also explain Miriam’s hesitancy and, perhaps, guilt.  Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli are very explicit in Miriam’s unhappiness with her marriage and also her flirtatious wanting of Dylan, pent up by the lack of sex and joy in her marriage, and she also initiates a kiss with Dylan.  Combine those details with a night of drinking, Dylan’s firm stance, and the way the film is shot ambiguously, a pressure cooker moment builds between the characters and viewers whether what stated happened actually happened.  Now, I’m not arguing a case for rape culture or make excuses for rapists, but “Violation” tilts toward Miriam’s mental quality that has been compromised by a contentious marriage, life envy, and the preconceived notion that she’s not a good person.  Either way, what follows the inconspicuous moment is sharply horrible, a real unsettling exhibition of meaningful art. 

“Violation” is certifiably fresh and deservingly so with jarring scenes of gruesomeness, a topical theme of trivializing rape accusations, and compelling character study of one woman’s disharmonious existence in her small inner bubble.  Now, you can own it the Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli film on UK Blu-ray from Acorn Media International. The PAL encoded, region 2 Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p full high definition in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2:39:1. “Violation” embodies an engulfing nature domination of the screen through an Adam Crosby lens. No matter how big and important the moment may be in the story, Crosby’s entrancing us with the tiny embers with a close up of the camp fire or having the actors dwarfed by towering trees until the second act that compartmentalizes two antagonistic characters in the same room. The release shows no signs of deflating Crosby’s and the filmmakers’ semi-surreal, flora and fauna vision with a sleek digital recording teeming with a range of wide landscape shots, stark long shots, and super closeups. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound captures as snap, crackle, and pop of the great outdoors; however, the dialogue, though quite clean and clearly audible, sounds a bit boxy at times. Special feature include two extras that are essentially one and the same taking up double the space on BD25 with a meet the filmmakers (Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli) talk very briefly about the genesis of the “Violation.” The second extra, the TIFF Intro, mirrors nearly world-for-world the first special feature. “Violation” has a runtime of 108 minutes and is rated 18 in the UK for strong violence, gore, sexual violence, sex references, and nudity. Viscerally intimate and ghastly, “Violation” is labeled the anti-rape revenge narrative with a close examination of trust and the unfortunate triviality of rape sure to churn stomachs and second guess the intentions of those close to you.

Own “Violation” on Blu-ray Home Video!

HELLelujah! God Does Not Deliver Us From EVIL! “We Still Say Grace” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)



A family living in deliberate solitude looks to God to provide them with everything they need to sustain.  Harold’s two teenage daughters have never experienced beyond the 14 acres of land their father and mother own, but the youngest, Maggie, can’t help but think of the wonders outside her father’s god-fearing, draconian sheltering.   When three teenage boys travelling to California suddenly break down on Harold’s remote land, an eager Maggie can’t wait to taste a mere glimpse of their perception of the outside world.  Being a good Christian man, Harold welcomes the hapless travelers into his home and convinces them to follow the rules and stay the night, but the boys’ seemingly happenstance car troubles is manipulated into an unavoidable sign of God’s will, or at least so in Harold’s eyes, and he decides to carry out a predetermined family suicide pact for him and his family to be welcomed into the gates of Heaven.

The one think learned, or maybe had shed more light on, out of this pandemic is the unstable relationship people have with God.  Religious extremist have weaponized the Powerful and Almighty against every day people like you and myself with contentious, hate-filled vocabulary such as damnation, burning, hell, etc., for those who do not seek his glory the way asininely seek it.  “We Still Say Grace” epitomizes that very lifestyle of devout fanaticism that has also been highlighted with buffoonery as the very same people who verbally condemn others usually don’t walk-the-walk but only talk-the-talk or are a charlatan involved in a more sinister plan.  “The Lodge’s” Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach write and direct the film that has become their second feature horror film produced by the filmmakers under their Brothers Shamus Pictures, Mark Sonoda of Dauntless Studios, Room in the Sky Films, and Lexicon Entertainment. 

Now, I’m not a religious man or spread the word of the divine in my reviews, but God love Bruce Davison as the “Dahmer” and “X-Men” actor is a silver fox crazy man of God living rurally with his wife and two teenage daughters.  Davison relentlessly rallies Harold’s madness and is having a good old time performing as a man with a hidden agenda.  Harold is an intriguing character with little-to-no information about the character’s background or reasoning for being unreasonable, but that doesn’t seem to faze the legendary actor who had cut his teeth into horror 50 years ago as the original rat-speaking avenger, “Willard,” as Davion trots down a path of deceitful radicalism and manipulative exploitation.  Those he unscrupulously cons with pious smoke and mirrors are his own family in wife Betty (Arianne Zucker, “Days of Our Lives” daytime soap opera), Sarah (Rita Volk), and Maggie (Holly Taylor, FX’s “The Americans”).  As a viewer who is currently, at this very moment, chin deep in catching up on FX’s Cold War espionage thriller series of Soviet spies living as ordinary Americans in Washington, D.C. as they carry out missions in the name of Communism, I found difficult in separating Holly Taylor from her the 2018 series that ended its successful run in 2018 when she was a teenager.  Taylor’s roll in “We Still Say Grace” typecast the actress as another teen though having filmed the movie as a young adult woman, but the lighting is different and I don’t mean in a literal illuminating sense.  Taylor steps out from “The Americans’” 80’s setting and into, what I presume, is the 1990’s based off some wardrobe choices, car models, and the time frames that fit into those constructs and while she still has this inkling of suspicion that her parents are up to something, a parallel that has carried over, there hasn’t been this much ill-fitting reverence of a man hellbent on belting those he breaks bread with on a daily basis.  There is hesitancy and fear in Taylor eyes and that’s breaks up her from a reoccurring teenager role.  When the three teens (Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, and Xavier J. Watson) show up at the front door, that’s when things go, more than usual for Maggie, terribly awry. 

Aside from Bruce Davison, the other performances muster little faith in their roles with overplayed tropes, especially the stranded teens who could be plucked out as the Three Stooges of horror they’re so easily identifiable across the genre.  The premise itself isn’t exactly novel of a Bible thumping person teaching and preaching self-sacrifice, aka suicide, as a way to transcend beyond the heathens of this Earth but marketable and attainable as a small independent production with a California desert location, minor but effective special effects, and a handful of actors where much of the money is spent on talent.  “We Still Say Grace” is structurally very loose with character development and plot points, leaking continues dribbles of minor shifts that never patch themselves up on the backend.  For example, Harold’s not the black and white evangelical nut he seems to be but that is where his arc pauses and doesn’t backtrack into reasoning.   Helmink and Rauschelbach do better on the scene setups and interiors that make Harold uncomfortably fearsome and hostile in any context as he sometimes looms in the shadows of his farm chic house or toys with people, even his own family, like rats in a maze as he guides them along to their doom.

Premiering for the first time in the UK courtesy of 101 Films, “We Still Say Grace’s” penitent themed horror-thriller releases digitally this month of May.  As for the imagery presentation, and take this with a grain of salt with any digitally released film, the nearly 94 minute runtime seems to be filmed with a sun derived dust and light haze that I would compare the appearance more akin to trying to look through the bottom of a hard water stained glass.  Under the cinematography of Douglas Quill, the haziness plays into the rustic and dusty atmospherics that give age to the story and Quill frames Harold as a dominant and isolated figure, especially amongst the holy trinity ablaze in human flesh, as if he was the sole antagonist against the world.  The moment for shattered lives remains intent on the very edge of our corneas with the holy hell of “We Still Say Grace’s” patience brittle villain ready to gaslight and sacrifice anyone resisting against the grain of God’s good graces.