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Friday, October 22, 2021

Express@TIFF: From the disturbing New Order to the chilling Violation

In Violation, one of the most chilling films I’ve seen, we see how simmering trauma between siblings, spouses, and other close family members, can result in pure, unadulterated horror.

Written by Shubhra Gupta |
Updated: June 29, 2021 2:14:41 pm
New Order, ViolationStills from New Order and Violation. (Photo: Toronto International Film Festival)

New Order, set in Mexico City, is a visceral, disturbing, frequently hard-to-watch film. Riots have broken out in parts of the city, there’s violence afoot, and no one — neither the super-rich, nestled in their walled bungalows, nor the working class, in their more modest dwellings — is being spared. Everyone is under the heavy jackboot of the military.

A Big Fat Wedding is underway in one of those mansions where liveried staff outnumbers the people who live in it, and dripping-in-designer-wear guests step out from their swanky SUVs to join the revelry. In the middle of it all, an elderly former employee arrives, asking for financial help for his sick wife. The amount cannot be much more than the price of a single dress in that glittering gathering, but the rich don’t get rich by being generous, do they? The only one who wants to genuinely help is the bride, Marianne (Nalan Gonzalez Norvind), who takes off with a staff member for the elderly man’s house, where the world as she knows it, comes to a crashing end.

The film is fiction, but as you watch the horror rolling out on the streets — the wealthy being kidnapped and taken off to prison, there to be brutalized and held for ransom, the less affluent being held responsible for things they have not done — you can see how it cuts frighteningly close to the bone. Marianne’s house is invaded by masked intruders, and looted; defiance is met with a bullet. In the prison, where she is being held, she and her companions are raped and tortured. This is hell.

Director Michel Franco spares us no ugly sight, forcing us to confront the consequences of class divide. How long will the poor continue to serve, and how long will the wealthy continue to rule? And this is true not just for Mexico City; it could be the same for any other city where class differences are as stark. If we do not mend our ways, says the film, we can either be the mob, or those being mobbed.

Horror doesn’t always have to be grounded in the real. It can visit us in different, less-easy-to-understand, psychologically complex ways. In Violation, one of the most chilling films I’ve seen, we see how simmering trauma between siblings, spouses, and other close family members, can result in pure, unadulterated horror. Writer-director duo Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli have borrowed from the tropes of the genre, and utilized them not as ends-in-themselves, but as elements in a nightmare. Emerging from this darkly atmospheric, mesmeric film, you feel like shaking yourself and reaching for the light.

A secluded cottage in the woods, surrounded by a lake, sounds like an idyllic spot. Miriam (Sims-Fewer herself) along with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) is spending the weekend with her estranged sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her partner Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). The hope that things can get better is dangled like a carrot between the foursome, but instead of coming to terms with past hurt, the discomfort grows, until something terrible happens.

This is not the kind of film which gives you breathing space between tense tracts. The unease keeps ratcheting up as Violation goes through sexual assault, dismembering of animals and humans, old-fashioned slaughter-with-a-saw, gushing blood; there’s also the feelings that emanate from the foursome, that some wrongs can never be set right. And there’s the way it sets up the rape, making the perpetrator a persuasive gaslighter: was it that, he asks, or did something which started out as provocation tumble over into a non-consensual act?

Violation is part of ‘Midnight Madness’, an uproariously fun TIFF section in which screenings begin on the dot of midnight, with genre fans all set to yell and shout. If watching this at home on my computer was so disquieting, I wonder what it would have led to in the theater: full-throated screams or stunned silence?

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