Everything You Need To Know About The Vomit-Inducing Revenge Scene In Violation

Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
This story contains spoilers for Violation, now streaming on Shudder. 
The traditional revenge movie plot goes something like this: A protagonist undergoes a traumatic experience that causes their world to shatter. In an effort to heal, they embark on a journey to get back at the person who wronged them. Hollywood history is littered with these stories, from Westerns like Once Upon A Time in the West, to horror classics like Carrie, and workplace comedies like 9 to 5
At first glance, Violation would appear to fit into this tradition. Written and directed by Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer (who also stars as protagonist Miriam), the movie, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, tracks a woman’s search for catharsis in the aftermath of a sexual assault by someone close to her. But though Miriam’s revenge is chilling and brutal, she never does get that sense of closure she craves. 
“We were almost trying to make an anti-revenge film in the traditional sense,” Mancinelli told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of Violation’s March 25 release on Shudder. “We wanted to focus on the grizzly nature of revenge. How does it erode someone’s morality and cause destruction around them? What is the real toll that it takes on a person’s psyche?”
Violation pulls no punches in answering that question. The movie begins as a family drama: Miriam and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) join her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse Lavercombe) at their Quebec lakeside cabin for a weekend getaway. But where the former are stuck in an emotionally-distant and passive aggressive rut, the latter are in a PDA-forward stage of newlywed bliss, a contrast that causes some friction between the otherwise affectionate sisters. But 30 minutes in, there’s a major shift. Suddenly, we’re in another timeline, and Miriam is meeting Dylan at the cabin under the guise of a romantic rendez-vous, only to blindfold him, tie him naked to a chair, and knock him out with a baseball bat. It’s only then that Miriam’s motive is revealed through fragments of memory: Dylan raped her, and this is revenge. 
What follows is an unrelentingly grotesque sequence: With Dylan unconscious, Miriam tapes his mouth and nose shut and places a plastic bag over his head to asphyxiate him. We see him gasping for air that never comes, a moment so violent that Miriam’s own resolve flags and she releases him. The two then end up in a very long physical struggle that feels almost  like a role-reversed version of the ending of Promising Young Woman. And still, it’s not over — Miriam proceeds to slowly and methodically dispose of Dylan’s dead body. She hangs him upside down from the ceiling and cuts his throat, draining his blood into a cooler, hacks off his limbs with a saw, and burns the body and his clothes in the forest, throwing the ashes in a nearby lake. Finally, she crushes his bones into a fine dust, which she swirls into a bowl of vanilla ice cream meant for a family picnic.
Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer both have personal experience with trauma. Ahead, they discuss the toll of filming such a physically demanding scene, and how it subverts a problematic trope. 
Refinery29: Rape-revenge films walk a fine line between empowerment in the aftermath of tragedy, and implying that a female protagonist has to go through trauma in order to find agency. Were you fighting the latter?

Madeleine Sims-Fewer: “This idea that a woman who has been sexually assaulted can only become whole again through murdering the person who assaulted her — we whole-heartedly reject that. 
"When we started writing it, although we knew that there was going to be this act of revenge as the centerpiece in this film, what we really wanted to express was a film about sisters and about fractured relationships, and how trauma and revenge kind of begets itself. We were more interested in the disintegration of the relationships between these two sisters, why the distrust between them exists, and how your past ideas of a person who’s close to you shape how you react to them.”
The scene is very hard to sit through. Was it always that brutal, or did you go through different iterations of it?
Dusty Mancinelli: “It was always designed that way, but the challenge in the writing process was trying to find specific moments where we could humanize Miriam’s character even though she’s doing these really unthinkable things. So, for example, in the moment where she decides to rip the bag off his head, it was really important to us that she decides she can’t go through with it. Also the moment where she projectile vomits [while draining the body] was quite critical because we’re watching her do this monstrous thing —  but she is not a monster. She is repulsed and disgusted by her own actions, and to try to show that for an audience was really quite challenging.”
MSF: “We knew that the level of violence that we were going for was going to be a tough sell because we’re so used to [this sub-genre showing] a very violent rape with a perpertrator who is a stranger in the woods, or a real villain jumping out of an alleyway. What we were interested in showing was a rape that was more insidious, and where the perpetrator is somebody incredibly close to Miriam. Even though this is just as emotionally damaging and just as traumatic, we know it was going to be hard to show that type of assault and justify the violence. “
Miriam is fully clothed when she kills Dylan, whereas he is naked.  Did you face any pushback on the amount of full-frontal male nudity
DM: “It was really important to us that there was no female nudity in the film, and if there is, that it’s not sexualized in any way. There is real power about seeing a man being stripped of his clothes and being in this really vulnerable position where Miriam suddenly has all the power in the scene.”
MSF: “We were incredibly fortunate in the making of this film because we were sole producers on it. We were able to produce the script that we envisioned. So, we knew that there were some things we weren’t going to compromise on. Male nudity was one of them.”
DM: “It is crazy though that we live in a society where it’s almost expected within the genre that there will be female nudity, and when there isn’t, and we’re showing full frontal male nudity, that there’s this really strong reaction. That’s just an interesting response and something we want to push back against.” 
Now that Violation has been through a couple of festivals, including TIFF and SXSW, have you noticed a pattern in the reactions audiences have been having to the revenge scene?
MSF: “We’ve had a lot of great positive reactions where people are like, ‘Thank god we’re seeing more of this male nudity, and men in vulnerable positions that are usually occupied by women.’But we’ve also gotten the other side, people who feel very affronted and insulted and indignant about the male nudity, and it’s particularly men who feel that way.” 
DM: “We’re used to seeing a woman who’s scantily clad in this sexy, vulnerable position and somehow gets agency, and it’s the complete opposite here. Miriam has all the control and power in this situation and she’s fully clothed. In fact, we’ve been criticized for not making her clothing sexy enough! Someone commented that…” 
MSF: “She was too frumpy looking. That was never our intention, to make Miriam frumpy, but it was also not our intention to make her sexy. She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup and she dresses like a normal human being. That was important to us.” 
DM: “There’s not that many violent sequences in the film but we were surprised by the audience’s reaction to the realism of the violence. We’re so used to seeing grotesque violent depictions in horror films, but usually it’s done in a way that’s maybe heightened or not so grounded, and the audience is maybe desensitized by that.” 
Do you think it’s also because you show her own physical reactions to what she’s going through, which mimics what that audience may be feeling while watching?
MSF: “We wanted Miriam’s performance to be very physical and to be almost animalistic — her emotions and what she’s going through are in her body. For example, the vomiting in that scene is real, and it’s very important to her humanity in that moment that she’s not reveling in what she’s going through, it’s physically repulsive for her to take this action.” 
DM: “It was really important for us to try to create a visceral experience for the audience that really captures the post-traumatic stress that the body goes through and so you’re reliving these traumatic moments with these characters and because of the grounded realism of how they’re portrayed, it hopefully elicits a very similar emotional response within the audience, and allow them to empathize with people who have experienced abuse and trauma in their past.”
When you say the vomiting was real — what was the physical toll of shooting that scene?
MSF: “We knew we only realistically had one take of that, and I don’t think I’d actually thrown up in about 10 years, so I didn’t even know if it was possible. I did some research, and it turned up that drinking a pint of salt water can induce vomiting. So, I ate some bananas and drank a pint of egg whites, because I thought that would be really disgusting, and then I drank a pint of saltwater. It was really instantaneous. We were all ready – we had this very elaborate special effects set piece happening at the same time. The camera was ready, and rolling, and after I drank the water, it was about six seconds.” 
How long did the whole thing take to shoot?
DM: “The sequence in which she straps him to the chair, they have a fight, and then she strangles him, that was a 10-minute sequence in the film that we shot over the course of five days. We used all natural light, so we had very specific windows of time that we could use to make all the lighting match, and we would spend mornings and afternoons rehearsing with the stunt choreographer and stunt double. But that one shot where she’s draining the body, we had that one take, and it was a lot of set up and prep, doing dry runs and making sure that the effect was working. We were really lucky to be partnered with this really terrific special effects company who did this full body cast of Jesse Lavercombe — hand painted, with every single hair, and even dirt on the feet."
MSF: “It was like an even more uncanny valley version of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. It looked exactly like Jesse, and he wrapped shooting a week before we finished. As he wrapped, his body arrived, and it was like he never left.”
What do you hope people take away from the movie?
DM: “Revenge films almost glorify and romanticize the act of revenge. As two people who have experienced abuse and trauma in our past, the film is designed to scare ourselves to not actually go through with revenge because we can see the horrific consequences and the toll it would take.”
MSF: “It’s a tantalizing fantasy to slip into when you’ve experienced trauma. And I think it can be quite dangerous to feel like that is the only answer and to not realize that you have agency within yourself to overcome trauma.”

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