Narrative Feature Competition film Here Before and 2020 Spotlight film Violet have women as their central characters. Happily, the women directors Stacey Gregg and Justine Bateman approach their subjects and protagonists with authority and sensitivity. In each film the protagonists must stand up for themselves, take their power and establish their agency. Though Here Before takes place in Northern Ireland and Violet in Hollywood, California, by the conclusion we appreciate how both women overcome their internal crises.
Uniquely, Here Before‘s character Laura (the superb Andrea Riseborough) establishes a solid, wholesome, family unit. Interestingly, she keeps it smoothly running even we learn of the loss of their daughter in a car accident years before. Living with the ache in her heart, she encourages their son in his schoolwork and maintains the balance with her husband. However, when a family moves next door in the duplex with a young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan) the age of Laura’s daughter, circumstances turn inside out
Initially, Megan appears to be canny in her interest in Laura and the family. Returning the interest and fascinated by her, Laura invites her to dinner. Clearly, Megan’s response at dinner reminds her of her lost child, Josie. Events intensify and the son becomes upset that his mom’s obsession seeing and visiting with Megan can’t be healthy. When the husband echoes the son’s comments and expresses his angst, the director throws the audience into the weeds. However, whether Megan channels her daughter Josie, as Laura appears to believe at one point, or as her son considers she’s gone over the bend, the character remains sympathetic.
Psychologically, the stresses caused by, Megan who the husband accuses of lying threaten to break the family apart. Indeed, when Laura challenged by her husband tells him to leave so she can restore order with her son, Stacey Gregg also the writer, shocks us with Laura’s audacity. Clearly, within she tears herself apart by wanting Megan to be Josie. Yet, by yearning for this fulfillment, she fears and she’s losing her hold on reality.
Substantively, Here Before‘s flirtation with the mystical psychological appeals. However, reality lands with a blow and Laura confronts the truth revealed by Megan who wishes the best for both families. Gregg’s strengths of storytelling lie in her editing and shepherding the actors to deliver stunning performances. As they circle around the paranormal and bridge the heavenly and the earthly, we willingly follow Laura’s journey deep into herself. By the startling climax, we understand her statements of forgiveness and reconciliation to what she can bear.
In Violet (Olivia Munn) the titular character reels in a cataclysm of self-doubt. Bateman who also wrote the film creates Violet’s interior monologue that spools in a constant drone of demeaning comments. Ironically, these come in the hyper-critical voice of Justin Theroux. Brilliantly, his snide, cruelty only abates when Violet chooses some self-effacing decision to bow to a male (i.e. her boss or someone else). Interestingly, the acquiescence ultimately infuriates her, as she suppresses her agency and autonomy for another.
Cleverly, Bateman chooses to reveal Violet’s interior rage by fading the screen into a muted red. Ironically, Theroux’s cryptic statement follows, “There! Don’t you feel better?” Of course the antithesis is true. The suppressed rage intimates self-betrayal, accepting someone else’s ideas and abuse. Indeed, Violet retains the power and intelligence to gain agency over herself to respond to them appropriately, but she listens to “the voice. Finally, she discusses “the committee” with a friend and receives help.
Through a number of instances, we note that Violet’s brilliance as a film development executive at a creditable boutique agency places her in forward momentum. Interestingly, the boffos in the agency mistreat her; her boss demeans her with backhanded compliments. Though she ignores their behavior, she takes notice when a black executive who has it together identifies her power and talent and their lame uselessness.
This moment establishes a turning point. And gradually we note that friends like Lila (Erica Ash) abound to her account. The adorable Red (Luke Bracey) provides his caring guidance and support. Incisively, his and other’s love assists, so that she can turn off the “committee” of despots (Theroux’s nasty insults) in her mind. Most probably this committee hails from past negative encounters with her mother, aunt and brother. All it takes for us to understand how misaligned they feel with her includes a few phone conversations and their sardonic facial expressions. Obviously, not close to her brother who resents her, she finally decides to separate, choosing her mother’s funeral to cut the hangman’s noose.
Clearly, Bateman wants the audience to feel and understand the hellishness of Violet’s careening upheaval within, under the duress of her own internalized Nazi. Can she rescue herself from herself? When distinguished looking guys from another outfit approach Violet and offer her a plum position, we hope she takes it. Instead, loyalty to her miserable boss Tom Gaines wins out. Then occurs a superb moment in the film. Helped by Red’s growing love she asserts herself. She explodes the myths Gaines uses to embarrass her for the last time. I imagine this marvelous scene in a theater without the pandemic yielding a chorus of cheers and loud applause.
On her first directing venture Bateman shepherds the rest of the cast to provide a satisfying conclusion after Violet kicks the horrific Nazi to the curb. However, until that occurs, one moves from one nail-biting encounter to the next, happy when loving friends show up to soothe.
For updates on film screenings, go to the website: https://www.violetthefilm.com/