Saturday, 7 December 2019

Shudder Saturday: M. F. A. (2017)

It's easy to dismiss erotic thrillers, horror movies, and exploitation fare for the content that they throw around onscreen, but there's one thing that they often get exactly right. They put forward the leading cause of rape as being rapists. Not alcohol, not walking in quiet areas late at night, not whatever victims may be wearing. No. The leading cause of rape is rapists, no matter what other characters in these movies try to make out, and characters often try to move the blame elsewherer. There are definitely some typical, and infuriating, attitudes on display here in M. F. A.

Francesca Eastwood plays an art student named Noelle, who is raped during some of the earliest scenes in this movie. Finding a lack of support from places that are supposed to provide it, Noelle bravely returns to face her rapist, who clearly doesn't think he has done anything wrong. One accidental death later, Noelle gets an idea. Too many rapists go through their life without being punished for their crime, while women are left to deal with the trauma forever, and Noelle is going to start administering her own justice. It's not long until a detective (Kennedy, played by Clifton Collins Jr.) starts to suspect Noelle is an important piece in the puzzle he is handed.

We've seen a number of movies made recently that take familiar fare and make them feel different by removing the male gaze, and M. F. A. is another. It's directed by Natalia Leite (who has previously done most of her work in short form, and I have sadly not seen any of them) and written by Leah McKendrick, who also co-stars here as Skye, a friend of Noelle and someone with her own secret. You can feel how notably different things are. Any scenes of sexual assault are carefully shot to avoid anything too gratuitous, as difficult a task as that may seem, and the appalling ways in which victims are treated after any such assault is put under the microscope, showing an understandable build up of anger and frustration that helps to motivate the lead character, whereas the same material made by a man would, more often than not, simply show a woman gritting her teeth and then "tooling up" to go on a killing spree.

Noelle says nothing that sounds mad. She's perfectly reasonable, and entirely justified in her disgust at how society maintains everything in favour of even the worst kind of man. Rape victim support groups discuss coping mechanisms and sympathy in ways that continue to force women to go through life attempting to downplay their odds of being raped when, let's say it again, the leading cause of rape is rapists.

Eastwood does okay in the lead role. She's perhaps not quite the best choice, but she's believable as someone who gets a number of unpleasant tasks done thanks more to her anger and determination than her physicality. Collins Jr. is the typical detective we've seen so many times before, popping up and asking a few questions, getting a suspicion, and becoming more tenacious as things head towards the finale. McKendrick does well, but it's those in the smaller roles who make more of an impact, with Mary Price Moore standing out as a counselor who seems to consistently provide the worst advice to victims, all while pretending to have their best interests at heart.

M. F. A. works as both a standard rape revenge thriller and a commentary on how victims keep being mistreated by people who are misguided, at best. I will be interested to check out other works directed by Leite, and anything else that McKendrick has written.


M. F. A. is currently on Shudder, of course.

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