Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fouad Mikati's Return to Sender

Cody takes a look at the new thriller Return to Sender, now in theatres and on VOD.

It's quite appropriate that actress Rosamund Pike first gained mainstream recognition with her appearance in the ice-themed James Bond movie Die Another Day, where she played a character named Miranda Frost, because the actress tends to have a very cold screen presence. Because of this, her casting in the adaptation of Gone Girl was perfect. That coldness is again on full display in director Fouad Mikati's thriller Return to Sender, but here it's a detriment to her character and the film.

Pike plays Miranda (Wells, not Frost), an uptight, perfectionist nurse who has agreed to let one of her co-workers set her up on a blind date. On the day of the date, Miranda opens her door to find a shaggy fellow played by Shiloh Fernandez (2013's Evil Dead) standing on her front porch. Thinking he's her date, she lets him in... and he proceeds to attack her, raping her.

Up to this point, Miranda has been a very tough character to connect with or care about. She is so cold, it's off-putting. Her behavior after the attack becomes even more off-putting. As she deals with the trauma and feels like her world is falling apart, anger and rudeness are added to the other traits that make her a less-than-stellar personality.

Her attacker is locked away in prison, and Miranda eventually starts writing letters to him. Letters which are initially returned to sender. She is determined to get in contact with him, though, and keeps sending letters until she wears him down. The two start to develop a relationship, Miranda visiting the man regularly. He wants to repair the damage he's done, and Miranda never lashes out at him the way you'd expect a normal person to do. Instead, she seems fascinated by him. She purposely draws him in.

Miranda's actions may seem baffling to some, especially when she continues the relationship with her attacker after he's released from prison, but the fact is that it's all part of a long con. This is just the latest in a long line of rape/revenge movies, but one that happens to have perhaps the most unlikeable protagonist any movie of this type has ever had. A truly repugnant person, Miranda even practices her "befriend then destroy" revenge strategy on the overly protective dog of her elderly father (Nick Nolte). Miranda earns the trust and affection of the animal while slowly poisoning him for the transgression of ruining one of her dresses. She murders her father's best friend.

Return to Sender is a movie that leaves me wondering... why? Why did Mikati and screenwriters Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett feel the need to make a rape/revenge movie where most viewers will likely hate the lead character? There is no catharsis in watching Miranda get revenge, just the feeling that you're watching a horrible character do a horrible thing. In the moments when you would usually be cheering for the heroine, she just reveals herself to be even worse than previously thought. From the early minutes, I already couldn't stand Miranda, and as the movie went on, making me spend 95 minutes with her, I liked her less and less.

The film is intriguing and technically well made, but Miranda is awful, which devalues the movie and makes it very tough to sit through. I would never want to watch Return to Sender again, because 95 minutes of that character was already more than enough. The only reason I would recommend that someone watch it is to see if they can tolerate her. Something of an endurance challenge.

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