Saturday, September 5, 2015

I Spit on Your Letter: Cheap, insulting "Return to Sender" doesn't deserve Rosamund Pike

Return to Sender (2015)
95 min., not rated (equivalent of an R).

If "Return to Sender" were an actual letter, it would deserve a shredding. This alleged thriller might feature Rosamund Pike, who doesn't fail to bring a measure of class to such tawdry material, but director Fouad Mikati (2010's Operation: Endgame") and screenwriters Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gosset actually try masquerading rape-trauma exploitation, basically "I Spit on Your Grave," as a female-empowerment revenge fantasy. What they most likely weren't trying for was something so cheap, cynical and not terribly thought-out. Pike plays Miranda Wells, a nurse with plans to transfer into surgical care and buy a new house with a double oven. Gearing up for a blind date with "Kevin," Miranda hasn't even gotten dressed when the fellow (Shiloh Fernandez) arrives early at her home. He doesn't appear as she expected and, in reality, he's not "Kevin" but a scruffy busser named William who saw her save a man from choking in the restaurant where he works. When Miranda asks him to leave, he refuses and violently rapes her in the kitchen before running off and leaving her to be found by the real Kevin. After the creep is caught and thrown in prison, Miranda is unable to move on her life but starts writing to William and then visiting him. Is she actually forgiving him, or this all leading up to serving him a cold dish?

Rosamund Pike, who shot this before "Gone Girl," might have painted Miranda as a traumatized protagonist worthy of catharsis, but it's in the script that she becomes an unbelievable movie construct rather than a real person. She is first established as an obsessive-compulsive with a germ phobia, and after being assaulted, Miranda loses herself. She's temperamental, taking her problems out on a heavily pierced dry-cleaning counter clerk (Scout Taylor-Compton) with a bare midriff, and suffers from PTSD with the trembling in her hands preventing her from icing one of her cakes and mastering an "Operation" game. It's a problematic role; what makes her seem implausible as a person is just a big piece of the film's ultimate scheme. Who is Miranda? No idea. Was she a psychopath all along? If Pike brought cunning subtlety to Amy Dunne in "Gone Girl," she becomes barking-mad and overwrought as Miranda, and it's more embarrassing than unnerving when a soon-imprisoned William wakes up to Miranda randomly playing air hockey (don't ask). Shiloh Fernandez plays Miranda's attacker William as written; he's appropriately skeezy but then too moronic to pose a major threat thereafter and then ickily sexualized. As Miranda's father, Nick Nolte is Nick Nolte, gravelly as always. Camryn Manheim, Rumer Willis and Alexi Wasser appear as Miranda's nursing friends, but it seems they're either left in the dark about the assault or just never console her once or comment on what happened to her; they merely exist to push her to find a man. Finally, it seems worth mentioning because it's so baffling that Ryan Phillippe is credited as "UPS Delivery Guy," but only the back of his head appears when dropping off a package at Miranda's doorstep.

When it seems like the film might be interested in adding psychological complexity as Miranda tries piecing her life back together, "Return to Sender" becomes muddled, searching for a discernible point. The film's entire mystery is predicated on whether or not Miranda has really had a change of heart for her rapist or just buttering up William until his parole, but despite Pike giving it her all, it's one long tease. It just doesn't know what it wants to be or what it wants to accomplish, and when it tries being something, the picture is just insulting and downright laughable. When Miranda visits William, their social visiting scenes are mumbly delivered, and one of the times she struts down the hall for one of their sessions in a white backless sundress becomes a source of snickering. Later, after William gets paroled and agrees to help her work on her house, there is a ridiculously salacious painting scene where Miranda puts the make on him with a stroke of the brush. The heavy-handed music score also doesn't miss a beat, underscoring every menacing beat as if the audience is too stupid to catch on. Never sympathetic as a rape drama and hardly ever going far enough with its effort to even be a brutal Final Girl revenge pic, "Return to Sender" is stuck on low simmer with no real style. It's also just a distasteful, wholly misguided and increasingly stupid waste of time.  

Grade:

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