Film Review: Return to Sender

Decades after the heyday of rape-revenge movies (the mid-1970s to ’80s), this undistinguished exploitation picture features 'Gone Girl' star Rosamund Pike as a high-strung crime victim who takes justice into her own hands.
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Miranda Wells (Rosamund Pike) was no doubt the prettiest girl in her Missouri high school. But odds are she wasn't the most well-liked, given that she's a germophobic, world-class controlling neurotic, qualities that serve her well as a surgical nurse but make her more than a little socially...challenging. It takes a mellow circle of friends not to hate a woman whose wardrobe fairly screams curated-by-baby-fashionistas and whose homemade baked goods would have been right at home on “Ace of Cakes.” But friends she has, and they're concerned enough about her perpetual singleton status to set her up on a blind date with a sweet guy named Kevin.

Unfortunately, the guy who turns up at her door isn't Kevin–it's a creep named William Finn (Shiloh Fernandez), who rapes and beats her in her own home. Contrary to what one has been led to expect by countless thrillers in which brutalized women are abused all over again by an overburdened and under-sympathetic system, Miranda sees her none-too-bright assailant quickly captured and imprisoned. But by the time Miranda starts writing to and visiting William in the name of forgiveness, it's already clear that she's one turn of the screw shy of a major meltdown, so what happens next is no great surprise.

And that's the trouble with Return to Sender: The idea may well have sounded like a fresh take on an old story…something like Abel Ferrara's still brutally effective 1981 Ms. 45 or perhaps the blander, more formulaic Sudden Death (Sig Shore, 1985). And maybe the pitch wasn't "You know–like Misery from Annie Wilkes' point of view," but it might as well have been. Like Katherine Heigl in the equally low-profile Home Sweet Hell (2015), Pike is stuck here playing a brittle, WASP-bitch stereotype—the same one John Waters sent up mercilessly 20 years ago in Serial Mom—with the difference that Pike's iron is still relatively hot, while Heigl is firmly stuck in the former-TV-star mire, and that neither director Fouad Mikati nor writers Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett seem to have found a new angle.

All that said, Pike's performance is a strong one, bolstered by Nick Nolte's turn as her fiercely devoted father. Their work doesn't transcend the material's limitations, but both performances should be required viewing for actors who think that being better than the material is an excuse to phone it in.

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