Trauma affects people in a variety of ways. There is no escaping its memory, but how it manifests for each individual can vary. For some it’s crippling, perpetual fear; for others it’s strength, anger… vengeance. Closure also comes in many forms; some peaceful, others less so. Many films have centred on the aftermath of a painful experience with contrasting paths and results. The latest is Return to Sender, which follows one woman’s recovery after a vicious attack.
Miranda (Rosamund Pike) is a dedicated nurse working on a transfer to surgery. She has a keen attention to detail, which she applies to decorating intricate cakes in her spare time. But all that changes when a blind date leads to a brutal rape in her home. In spite of her attacker’s conviction, Miranda cannot move forward. In addition to now being known as the rape victim in her community, she is afflicted with uncontrollable tremors that are affecting her career prospects. Determined to regain control, she devises a plan that only the most steadfast commitment can make come to fruition. And as it’s executed, Miranda proves capable of things no one could have imagined.
Rape-revenge films were popular in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, making a comeback in recent years with horrific remakes of the genre’s more prevalent titles. The problem with many of these pictures was their graphic depictions of the attacks, which occupied a significant amount of screen time and unnecessary close-ups. That is the first element that differentiates this movie — in spite of the violent nature of the subject, it’s not the focus. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the psychological consequences of the incident: the violation of Miranda’s home, the ripple effect the assault has on her life and her methods of dealing with it. Any aggression that occurs after the rape is either passive or happens off-screen, which somewhat weakens the impact of her actions and further distinguishes it within the revenge genre.
Since this movie doesn’t revolve around bloodshed, the pace is slower than its counterparts’. However portions of it remain very disturbing, displaying a different type of hostility. Miranda’s tactics are unquestioningly effective, but one inevitably has to wonder about her sanity; particularly in regards to her ability to befriend her assailant. The instances in which they seem to connect are incredibly uncomfortable, but also make it difficult to buy into the story completely.
Miranda is quite similar to Pike’s character in Gone Girl, but she adapts her performance by toning down the crazy and vindictiveness. Miranda is still cunning, but her intentions are better hidden. Shiloh Fernandez is wildly charming when he wants to be, but also able to evoke something sinister in his otherwise attractive brown eyes. Meanwhile, Miranda’s father played by Nick Nolte is stuck feeling inadequate for not being able to protect her or effectively help her heal.