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Return to Sender | Review

Harder Candy: Pike Headlines Predictably Exploitative Rape Thriller

Fouad Mikati Return to Sender PosterIt seems Rosamund Pike is now the girl most likely to…. exact ruthless retribution on her instigators, if judging from the latest indie thriller Return to Sender, unfortunately arriving on the heels of her Oscar nominated success in last year’s comparably themed David Fincher film, Gone Girl. But the pedigree of auteur assistance is not on hand with Fouad Mikati’s sophomore effort, his first film since 2010’s Operation: Endgame. Somehow, he amassed a rather respectable cast for this grindhouse knockoff that could have easily premiered on Lifetime if Pike hadn’t suddenly become such a hot commodity. To be fair, we’ll have to wait another year or so to appreciate the actress in some higher quality offerings, and by then this will most likely be forgotten about.

Surgical nurse Miranda Wells (Pike) seems to have a bright future ahead of her. Securing the career she worked towards and about to upgrade her new house, she seems to have little worries. More or less liked by coworkers, she spends her free time with hobbies requiring careful precision, such as the crafting of beautifully decadent cakes. She seems to have an affable relationship with her father (Nick Nolte), though some strange hints about her mother’s untimely death seem to haunt them. After performing an emergency tracheotomy on a fellow citizen in a restaurant (not unlike a similar sequence played for comedic effect in The Heat), Miranda catches the attention of an admirer (Shiloh Fernandez), who eventually wheedles his way into her home and takes advantage of her.

It’s not so much that Return To Sender is laughably schlocky (which it is), but also crushingly familiar in its vengeful antics posing as female agency in response to society’s continued traditions of patriarchy and misogyny. One could maybe make a case for something like the infamous 1978 exploitation flick I Spit On Your Grave (which was also unnecessarily remade in 2010) if only due to the less enlightened period it was released in. But in 2015, these pseudo-Misery templates have little impact, especially since Mikati can’t even commit to confirming what it is exactly Miranda does to her assailant. His moan of misery would suggest castration, but its failure to confirm this feels an awful lot like the copout of pedophile revenge thriller Hard Candy (2005). The visualization of the male reproductive organs either erect or mutilated is too taboo for the limited range of something like Return to the Sender, skirting by on cheap thrills and heavily manufactured contrivances taking the place of characterization (Miranda’s tic with the pens is embarrassingly trite).

Likewise, we’ve seen Fernandez play the sexual threat next door already, most recently in Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard (2014). His characterization is paper thin, representative of little more than the usual walking hard-ons gracing these ‘female’ perspective revenge thrillers. As her father, Nick Nolte is his regular jumble of garbles as of late, which isn’t distracting unless he’s trying to project. Supporting nurse characters like Camryn Manheim and a blink and you’ll miss her Rumer Willis are on hand to prove the usual stereotypes of eternal clique mentalities, and for some reason Ileana Douglas is on hand as a real estate agent sporting a hair piece used in a passing punch line.

It’s impossible not compare Pike’s turn to the vicious standards she’d already set in Gone Girl, so much so that this feels like a ghostly prologue.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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