Return to Sender **
Dir: Fouad Mikati. With: Rosamund Pike, Rumer Willis, Scout Taylor-Compton, Shiloh Fernandez, Nick Nolte, Camryn Mannheim, Illeana Douglas. 18 cert, 95 min
This often happens: a performer hits the A-list, and all manner of skeletons are pulled from their closet for public exhibition. Rosamund Pike scored a career high last year as Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, and what’s notable about her previous project, the salacious indie thriller Return to Sender, is its rough-draft resemblance to the later film. Again, rape-revenge tropes are toyed with in cynical-to-silly ways; again, we’re meant to be titillated by the manoeuvrings of two sociopaths who arguably deserve one another. The end product: cinematic clickbait that hides its weakest material behind spoilers, and hopes its audience will be gullible enough to proceed.
Pike’s Miranda is the kind of movie nurse whose professional standing can be asserted by the performance of an impromptu after-hours tracheotomy; going on the meticulously iced cake she presents at a colleague’s birthday (“it’s just something I do”), she’s also a domestic goddess. All she’s missing is a man, a lack which a blind date is meant to resolve. William (Shiloh Fernandez) arrives early, and given his resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix’s sketchier younger brother, you might hope for an indefinite postponement; instead, he assaults her over the kitchen table, leaving her there for when her actual date – a charming fellow, carrying flowers – shows up.
That’s a neat – if nasty – twist, and what follows, after Miranda recuperates, is elevated by Pike’s smart work in layering up this character: a control freak rattled by the imperfections of lesser mortals. A ruckus in the drycleaners, just as our heroine should be at her most sympathetic, indicates something’s off with her, but the filmmakers find laughable ways of underlining the point: one minute she’s struggling with her piping bag, the next having a tizz playing Operation. When she starts visiting William in jail for intense heart-to-hearts, we gulp: is this a movie in which a survivor discovers she misses her attacker?
That at least would be daring. What’s actually being withheld proves far less potent: coy payback, pre-empted by a scene – suggestive of 18-rated Nicholas Sparks – in which the just-released William and Miranda paint porch furniture (“you’re dripping”). Weaponising those dark-pool eyes, Pike’s remains a preternatural beauty, but it merits a vehicle that doesn’t encourage us to suspect or loathe her for it as these films do – and that may require her to step away from American popular culture, and its ingrained misogyny, just as she’s being embraced by it. For the time being, there aren’t trigger warnings big enough for trash like this.
Return to Sender is now playing in selected cinemas.