Studio: Dark Sky Films

Jan 05, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

If there was ever a time for a subgenre to make a comeback, it’s rape/revenge thrillers in 2017. A grimy off-shoot of the exploitation craze in the 1970s, rape/revenge films represented a contradictory intersection of tasteless titillation and cutting edge social commentary. Many of these films existed purely to cash in on taboo subject matter but several standouts - Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 and Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave - prompted serious critical and academic consideration of changing gender norms and the role of feminism in film and society. After a year of sexual harassment revelations in Hollywood and what feels like a tipping point in the cultural conversation, M.F.A feels less like a throwback and more like a fresh part of the zeitgeist.

One major advantage M.F.A has over its predecessors is its wholly female perspective. Directed by Natalia Leite and written by Leah McKendrick - who also co-stars in a supporting role - the film takes a much more sensitive and thoughtful approach to its subject matter than earlier entries in the genre. Francesca Eastwood stars as Noelle, a fine arts grad student who is date raped by a classmate at a party. When a second encounter with him accidentally turns deadly, Noelle begins investigating other rapes that have been reported on campus. Feeling that not enough is being done about it, she takes matters into her own hands.

As mentioned, the film handles the rape sequence and Noelle’s subsequent PTSD in a way that’s powerful without being exploitative. Leite uses speed ramping and white noise during the scene itself and mines genuine terror from the speed with which it pivots from a drunken make-out session to a violent assault. The film maintains a fairly subtle score and sound design throughout, a pleasant reprieve in a genre that can easily lean on jarring stings and loud noises for emphasis. There’s also some small variations on old tropes; Noelle throwing herself into a pool rather than crying in the shower makes for a minor but welcome change of pace.

Not everything in the film is as well-considered. The film opens with the old “the theme of the class is the theme of the movie” cliche that never fails to irritate. There’s also a rape awareness group that Noelle joins that serves as a very on-the-nose strawman of the well-meaning but ineffectual ally. Overall though, the film does a fair job of integrating all the ways in which people and institutions are either helpless or willfully negligent in prosecuting rapists and assisting survivors. This attention to detail makes Noelle’s progression from shy wallflower to righteous serial killer more realistic than say, Thana’s quasi-supernatural transformation in Ms. 45. Eastwood does an admirable job selling the transition, her early naif persona assisted by her looking like the type of girl Tim Burton would fall for if he were a SoCal hippie rather than a goth. She’s much more in her element as an angel of death, where the same teasing snarl she shares with her father does a lot of the heavy lifting. M.F.A. doesn't reinvent the rape/revenge formula so much as it updates it for an era where it feels sorely needed.


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.