Return to Sender (2014)

 ***Warning- Some Spoilers***

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Attention sex offenders- whatever you do, do not drink the lemonade!

What could have been a harrowing study of the long-standing psychological aftereffects of a horrific crime becomes disappointingly seedy, exploitative, and torture porn-y in this mediocre rape-revenge thriller. The actors do their best, but the results are as icy and soulless as the main character, a perfectionist who begins to show her rotten core after being raped by a depraved stalker. If this movie has any real message, it’s that the victim of a rape can be just as sick and demented as her assailant.

Miranda (Gone Girl‘s Rosamund Pike) is a capable nurse and all-around compulsive type who seems to have a bit of an issue with the opposite sex, perhaps springing from childhood trauma. But not a bad lady, right? So you would think… until Miranda commits the ultimate no-no for potentially likable characters and poisons her dad (Nick Nolte)’s dog to death. And baby, that’s only the beginning.

Anyway, before all that shit goes down, Miranda seems like a fairly likable, albeit high-strung protagonist. During a blind date, Miranda is raped by the mindbogglingly sleazy Will (Shiloh Fernandez.) But the crafty Miranda is not going down without a fight. Ever the sultry minx, Miranda visits Will in prison and befriends him under false pretenses, grooming him to walk right into the trap of a perfect revenge. Hold on to your balls, gentlemen!

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However long I waited in earnest for the revenge scene, I found myself somewhat disappointed with the way they handled it. The cheesy and lurid finale just doesn’t fit with the reasonably well-conceived and thoughtful beginning. The problem is not in the actors. Maybe developing Miranda as a more likable character would help. Regardless of the sympathy you feel for her initially, she betrays your trust and reveals herself to be a over-the-top, evil, backstabbing bitch.

I guess the revelation that Miranda is an evil wench is supposed to be thrilling but it seems like a cheat, especially with so many unanswered questions regarding the plot floating around the stratosphere. We’re simply left with the question, why are we supposed to care about this story?  The filmmaker starts out with some good ideas, but “Return to Sender” succeeds in the end as being entertainment in only the basest sense. It’s not inspiring, it’s not enlightening, and it certainly doesn’t offer any comfort or emotional relief to those who’s lives are affected by rape.

Three things save this movie from being a complete bust- the actors (uniformly competent,) the first thirty minutes or so (which maintains a sense of relative realism that falls to pieces in the messy, sadistic climax,) and the fact that the rape scene itself is handled with more finesse than one would expect for a movie of this type. Rosamund Pike is lovely and shows obvious talent, but in the end this film is just another creepy movie about rape, without the soulfulness or the seriousness to make it work.

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