For all of the superhero flicks and blockbusters that make up much of the summer schedule, often in cinema there’s an inclination for filmmakers to reflect reality, and tap into real-life, pertinent issues that many people have to go through. In Return to Sender the prevalent theme is rape, and in Fouad Mikati’s Return to Sender, the main focus is on the aftermath and how both the victim and perpetrator are affected by the violent, savage incident that occurred; making for a truly thought-provoking piece of cinema.
Rosamund Pike plays the victim, a small town nurse who agrees, somewhat reluctantly, to go on a blind date with a colleague’s friend. On the day of the meeting, her doorbell rings a little earlier than she’d expected – and her date, William Finn (Shiloh Fernandez) shows up at her home to pick her up. However before they’ve even had the chance to leave, he attacks the nurse and proceeds to mercilessly rape her in her kitchen. Despite the help of her furious father (Nick Nolte), she struggles to overcome the heinous incident – and so decides to visit her attacker in prison.
To study the act of forgiveness is a unique spin on a theme often explored on screen. So often we witness the victim struggling to cope with life following her attack, and never wanting to come face to face with the perpetrator ever again. That’s naturally an entirely understandable reaction, of course, but the notion of confronting these fears makes for an intriguing premise. Regrettably, however, the hackneyed means of storytelling seeks only in devaluing and cheapening the experience, taking a fascinating idea and presenting it in such a cliched fashion. Nonetheless, there remains enough about this picture to appreciate, most significantly being that of Pike’s performance. Her reaction to the incident is remarkably subtle, and refreshingly overstated. Of course the entire debacle has had a profound effect on her, but it’s not been presented in an overtly dramatic way – instead focusing on the smaller, nuanced reactions, such as how she can’t focus properly; dropping items at work; making supposedly simple tasks difficult for herself. We also see her just lying on the sofa, watching television – nothing overstated, but we just see how she loses the colour from her cheeks, a shadow of her former self.
We also get to witness the rapist’s reaction, which is interesting too, in how the whole situation has taken its toll on him. Regrettably, however, Fernandez’s turn is not as accomplished as his co-star’s. This is just another example of a film not utilising it’s full potential, as you can’t help but feel that with a more resourceful filmmaker and a slightly better cast to support Pike, this could have been a truly indelible feature, as opposed to one that may well leave you before you’ve even made it back home.