“Return to Sender is a harsh and unforgiving tale. From the very visceral experience of Miranda’s rape, to the end result of someone as disturbed as her finding a way to “cope”. Coupled with the disintegration of a father-daughter relationship and the callous and calculated brutality towards Benny (the dog) and William, it all adds up to a rather horrifying story. And it does so with such a sense of calm throughout that just how unsettling it is doesn’t sink in until sometime much later” – 3.6/5 (general)
This movie falls a bit outside of what I’m used to reviewing, as I tend to stick to horror movies because of the somewhat simple themes (for writing about). Return to Sender was a last minute switch from Tiger House, which I will be reviewing soon, and I’m glad that I made it. It’s difficult to know where to come down on this movie, whether you should feel sorry for Miranda, hate her, love her or even feel bad for William. For me, in the end, all my emotion was directed towards Miranda’s father Mitchell and there was very little left for either of the two primaries. And yet there was a wonderful peacefulness that came with the ending that caught me by surprise.
This is the story of Miranda (Rosamund Pike), a successful nurse working in critical care that wants to transfer to surgery. She of course is friends with several of the nurses she works with, but honestly I don’t see how. Miranda is coarse, and essentially just obtuse when it comes to social interactions and she often comes off as just plain rude and angry. I suppose looking back on it now, the writers were offering us some glimpse into what really lied beneath the surface of her. But for whatever reason they tolerate her, and maybe its because they actually care about her despite all the off putting aspects of her personality. She is an extreme germophobe and nearly has a break down at the dry cleaners when she is forced to use a pen that is not her own. I’m sure some people would say that she is OCD as well, but being on the somewhat far end of OCD myself I would say it really is just being a germophobe and not obsessive compulsion.
Shortly after the dry cleaners she visits her father where, while looking at her old things in the barn (I think) she is moderately attacked by Benny her father’s dog. Her dress is torn and she gets more upset than one would expect. From here, and for the better part of the first 20 to 25 minutes of the movie, we get to see what an otherwise perfect life she has, how good she is at her job and just how much people love her. She saves a choking man’s life in a restaurant and people applaud for her.
Then everything takes a turn. She is setup on a blind date and someone arrives early the day of at her house, who she assumes is Kevin her date. To get past the worst of it for the purpose of reviewing the movie, she is raped by this man in her home, and yes the movie stays with her through the entirety of it. If this is something you can’t handle watching (for whatever reason that may be) then please do not watch this movie, as even I found this difficult to watch. Time begins skipping ahead pretty quickly with no real indication that a large quantity of time has passed other than the mentioning of holidays. Unable to cope with what happened, and some very unreasonable expectations by others for her to, she loses her transfer to surgery and then sets out in an odd attempt to make a connection with the man who raped her who is now in prison.
Rosamund Pike as Miranda is, well stunning. She delivers every aspect of someone who was already rather disturbed and was then further taken down that path with great nuance and subtlety. I both wanted to feel sympathy for and hate Miranda as it became clear what her plans were and what she was doing to achieve them. I didn’t feel like there was ever a time that the character of Miranda was inconsistent, despite the difficulty of expressing all the deeper emotional levels that was necessary, and the empty core beneath. She along with Nick Nolte (her father Mitchell) really carried this movie. Some of the best scenes were the interactions between Miranda and her father, and this is where we get to see glimpses of just what is underneath. I would like to say that Nick did an excellent job as Mitchell, and delivered just as stunning a performance as Rosamund.
After the rape, because of the nature of the story telling, it felt as if many random pieces were up in the air and were not connecting or clicking. Perhaps this in itself was a metaphor for how Miranda was feeling, but then came the scene where Miranda and her father have an argument on her front porch. This was the galvanizing moment for this movie, the pivotal point upon which the movie hinged or so it felt like with the chemistry between these two actors. There was a real sense of a father-daughter relationship that was somewhat lacking before (although in the end it becomes clear why). These two made this movie.
Briefly, there was William (Shiloh Fernandez) the rapist who also played a prominent role in the movie other than just that part. But after that initial act and a few moments when he was in prison he was more like a mask for Miranda, a toy that was getting all the focus of her attention. At first he liked this, as he thought somehow he could make things up to her, but how he even thought that was possible I’m not sure. His acting is solid, but not superb and definitely not the highlight of the movie.
The direction and implementation of the movie and its basic plot elements was good, but not something that I felt stood out. In fact, this is probably all for the better as it was really the narrative that was the driving force and any attempt to be clever with camera angles or novelty shots would have completely shattered the fragile, but overwhelming force pulling you in. The best part of the direction here was that realization I think, and letting regular shots fall throughout.
There was a wonderful and steady buildup leading towards an obvious ending, but this did not detract from the impact of it. The final scene was actually a bit of surprise and a wonderful way to end things, normalcy in the abnormal. The ending left us with a good amount of closure while leaving just enough to keep us curious about what would happen next, even if we were more concerned about how Miranda and her father would work things out. I often wonder once I hit the last 20 minutes of a movie how they are going to end it, maybe the way I think or will they throw in a surprise. Return to Sender through in a surprise, a subtle and as I said before almost peaceful one.
This leaves really only one last thing, the title. It makes virtually no sense initially why it would be named this, and then we get to see the two (maybe three) letters Miranda writes which have “Return to Sender” stamped on the envelope. After this it never comes up again. Perhaps I’m too tired at present to think of a reasonable explanation as to why that was chosen for the title and not something more present, but it does seem like an odd choice. Actually, my biggest complaint about the movie is the title.
Return to Sender is a harsh and unforgiving tale, from the very visceral experience of Miranda’s rape, to the end result of someone as disturbed as her finding a way to “cope”. Coupled with the disintegration of a father-daughter relationship and the callous and calculated brutality towards Benny (the dog), it all adds up to a rather horrifying story. And it does so with such a sense of calm throughout that just how unsettling it is doesn’t sink in until sometime much later when thinking back. This movie will definitely affect each viewer differently, with one or two aspects finding a nice little hiding place in their mind to rattle around for a while unwanted.
Overall: 3.6/5 (general)