Return to Sender (2015) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for strong sexual content including rape, violence, disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Nick Nolte, Shiloh Fernandez, Camryn Manheim, Illeana Douglas, Rumer Willis
Director: Fouad Mikati
Screenplay: Patricia Beauchamp, Joe Gossett
Review published May 27, 2015
The generically titled Return to Sender would appear, at first, as Rosamund Pike's attempt to atone a bit for her turn in a film that used rape and battery in the middle of a piece of pure entertainment like Gone Girl, by doing a serious movie about rape and dealing with the consequences. And for a while, it plays like just that. That is, until the second half goes off into more of the same territory that you'd figure would feel right in place in a David Fincher work like Gone Girl or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Pike plays a nurse named Miranda, suffering from some sort of OCD behavior and probably more than a bit of germaphobia, something which does get on the nerves of coworkers and people milling about in public alike. A blind date setup ends up with her being sexually assaulted and beaten in her own home by a fixated man she doesn't really know named William (played by Joaquin Phoenix doppelganger, Shiloh Fernandez, White Bird in a Blizzard). William's off to prison as Miranda mends her wounds, only to later start to write to him (something he rejects for a while, leading to the reason for the movie's title), and even start weekly visits to see how he's doing in prison.
Is she trying to rehabilitate him? Is she trying to rehabilitate herself by making peace with the nightmare she's been living through? Or, is she now fixating romantically on her tormentor the same way he was fixated on her? Or could this all be one big trap to spring her revenge on the man who turned her world upside down? The whole rest of the movie is basically just trying to keep you guessing as to what, if any, angle is the reason why she's trying to seduce her rapist. Unfortunately, while the movie could have taken the high road with solid performers and some serious subject matter, it's really just a shell game, trying to keep you guessing which direction the story will ultimately go.
With only the presence of Pike doing what she does best (i.e., play icy, distant and, somehow, sexy), and a nice turn by supporting player Nick Nolte (Run All Night, Noah) as her doting father, the movie does manage to stay just this side of credible, despite some pretty tawdry developments. The movie even had me for a spell, only to lose me by the end with a revelation concerning a dog that completely lost my rooting interest in these characters. Directed as if for the Lifetime Channel by Fouad Mikati, this material certainly could have used the deft hand of an experienced director like the aforementioned Fincher to pull off, if not for the fact that he's already pulled off this same material twice, and once with Pike as the lead.
I initially thought that Return to Sender was a bad title, but now that I've seen it, perhaps the name was stamped on the script by all of the prior studios that read it, and it just stuck. Certainly, you might have the same sentiment at some point in this squirm-inducing thriller that, yet again, uses the sexual assault of a woman as a gimmicky plot device. Now she has another film to atone for.
©2015 Vince Leo