Director: Fouad Mikati
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Shiloh Fernandez, Nick Nolte, Camryn Manheim, Alexi Wasser, Rumer Willis, Illeana Douglas, Stephen Louis Grush, Ryan Phillippe
Runtime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Violence and Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 20 August 2015
Synopsis: In this intense thriller, Rosamund Pike stars as a small town nurse who gets attacked during a home invasion by a mysterious criminal (Shiloh Fernandez). Following his arrest, she starts to regularly visit him in jail and befriends him, against her father's (Nick Nolte) advice.
If there is one thing that ‘Return to Sender’ has going for it, it is Rosamund Pike. As the uptight ICU nurse Miranda with a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Pike projects disarming menace in a role not unlike that which she received critical acclaim for in David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’. The conceit here is Miranda’s transformation following a sexual assault who turns up at her doorstep one day –not only does she not try to avoid her assailant, Miranda writes letters to him and visits him in jail on a regular basis, striking up an unexpected friendship that culminates, upon his release, in him re-visiting her place and helping to fix up her front porch.
Whether she indeed has forgiveness on her mind is a riddle that screenwriters Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett try to tease to the very finish, though admittedly it is not hard to guess just what Miranda’s real intentions are, not least because she seems to be relishing her weekly visits by wearing floaty day dresses to prison. And yet, director Fouad Mikati insists on keeping his cards extremely close to his chest, opting for a slow-burn buildup that emphasises her PTSD symptoms and concomitant descent into sociopathy without so much as hinting at what she has planned for her attacker. That may have been more effective were Miranda and her complement’s motivations clear, but as it is, the fact that both are left ambiguous leaves everything else in a bland and tedious muddle.
Just what was William (Shiloh Fernandez) doing on her doorstep in broad daylight while she was waiting for her blind date? What exactly made her go from a traumatised victim to reach out to William? Why does she end up turning against her father’s dog who apparently hates her? And just, why oh why does she decide of all things to write a letter to William as a means of initiating contact with him behind bars? Why not just visit? There are plenty of narrative loopholes in the poorly constructed set-up, but none as damning as the indistinct character work that frankly just leaves us scratching our heads wondering what these badly defined individuals are up to.
The fault isn’t just that of his writers, but also Mikati’s to bear. There are two crucial turning points here and he pretty much f**ks both up. The first is (obviously) Miranda’s nasty rape, which is staged with the sort of detachment that makes you think why you should be bothered that this is happening to her at all – even a similar scene in ‘Gone Girl’ where Pike’s character simulates a rape-in-progress in order to lie to the authorities later on has more teeth than this haplessly inept sequence. The second is the big reveal, which unfolds in such a low-key manner that you wonder if Mikati just could not be bothered; considering just what he wants his protagonist to be, one would have expected a lot more commitment to portray her as the unhinged avenger she is, which unfortunately fails to come through even in the final act.
Not even a coolly calculated performance from Pike manages to lift this uninspired thriller from its own tedium. Pike holds our attention for most of the film’s running time all right, but saddled with clichés like not being able to hold her hands steady to frost a cake or losing her cool playing the board game Operation doesn’t exactly do her befuddled character any favours. Fernandez is utterly forgettable as her predator turned prey, while Nick Nolte basically rasps his way through as her father struggling to get to grips with the daughter he thought he knew.
Whether as a character-driven tale or a pure B-grade revenge fantasy, ‘Return to Sender’ is just plain awful, and a terrible waste of its star Pike’s charisma and talent. Were it not for ‘Gone Girl’, this at-best TV drama would have been consigned to the Saturday night cable dumpster – but, as it turns out, given its title, you have no reason not to return this straight back to sender.
(Rosamund Pike reprises – sort of – her coolly calculating psycho role in ‘Gone Girl’, but this otherwise inept revenge thriller is a muddle of plot holes and poorly defined characters)
Review by Gabriel Chong