June 19, 2015
Miranda (Rosamund Pike) is a nurse who's got it all it seems -- her own nice house, a loving supportive Dad (Nick Nolte), a stable career about to go the next level. One day, a lecherous stranger William (Shiloh Fernandez) gains access into her house and rapes her. As her neat little world comes crumbling down around her, Miranda embarks on a novel form of "therapy", in the hope of recovering from the brutal trauma she suffered.
A rapist is not only a sexual assaulter, but also the ultimate bully and power-tripper. A rape victim is violated not only sexually and physically, but also psychologically, mentally and even spiritually. What may be a few minutes of torture will haunt a victim for a lifetime.
Films about this crime are very difficult and uncomfortable to watch. But being powerfully rich in dramatic pain and torment, rape and its aftermath had been the topic of hundreds of films and tv shows. Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950) and Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" (1960) are both Oscar-winning classics of World Cinema. "Johnny Belinda" (1948) and"The Accused" (1988) have won Best Actress Oscars for Jane Wyman and Jodie Foster respectively. But no, before you expect too much, "Return to Sender" does not have Oscars in its future.
Lead star Rosamund Pike shot "Return to Sender" BEFORE her Oscar-nominated turn in "Gone Girl". There is a lot of her "Gone Girl" performance here as well -- the subtle mysterious boiling under her cool-as-ice exterior. The strange script makes her do a lot of illogically unexpected, supposedly therapeutic activities, and Pike does them with her game face straight on. Seeing her make these puzzling decisions, we are as frustrated as her father Mitchell was in the film.
Shiloh Fernandez was clearly up to no good the moment we see him onscreen. He has got a raw roguish look about him that makes him work as this vile character. Nick Nolte is now all grandfatherly and Santa Claus-like with his white beard and body heft, playing MIranda's father Mitchell. This look is so unlike how I last remember him during his prime in the 1990s in film like "Cape Fear" or "The Prince of Tides." But his effectivity as an actor remains.
Watching "Return to Sender" felt like watching three different short films which were just tenuously connected to each other. It veers away from the oft-repeated Rape-Revenge trope ("I Spit on Your Grave", "Lipstick", "Angela Markado" to name a few) by giving us an interesting head-scratcher of a second act. However, the final act was maddening because it never really showed us clearly what happened. I am sure those who have invested time to follow the movie to this point may not exactly relish this disappointing ending, as I was. 4/10.