M.F.A Review: See the birth of a star in this modern take on the rape-revenge thriller.
M.F.A review by Kat Hughes.
College can be a tough time, it’s the first time away from home, you’re away from your high-school friends, and it can be a struggle trying to discover who you are. Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) has made her way through college, all the way to her final year, and still hasn’t really found herself. A student in Fine Arts, she’s finding that her work lacks the spark that gets people talking, that is until she is raped by one of her classmates. Her work then takes on a dark edge which is compounded further after the accidental death of her rapist leads to her embarking on a one woman revenge killing-spree, avenging fellow victims of rape after the school make it clear that they aren’t going to do anything to help. Noelle finds herself enjoying her new sideline a little too much – can she pull back before it’s too late, and will she get that M.F.A (Masters of Fine Arts) degree she so desperately craves.
Rape-revenge films have been around for years, I Spit on your Grave being the most prolific. They usually see a women violently attacked, and in most cases, left for dead, before she trains herself up and seeks bloody vengeance. Whilst M.F.A shares the basic story skeleton – girl is raped and turns on the attackers – it’s a very different affair. First off, it’s not as bloody nor as over the top as the likes of I Spit on your Grave, it’s a much more subdued and impacting tale. Noelle is a shy art student who finds herself raped by her crush during a party. The aftermath sees Noelle do some of the right things – she reports the attack to her school, but they’re more concerned with keeping a 0% crime rating to be bothered to help her. She then decides to confront her attacker, who refuses to acknowledge that it was rape, and accidentally falls to his death during their talk. Once dead, Noelle realises that she’s free, but then finds herself increasingly angry as she discovers all the other rapes that her school have covered up. It is this, not the attack on herself, that spurs her into action. She’s like a rape vigilante, a kind of weird superhero protecting her fellow ladies on campus from the date-raping fraternities and evil ex-boyfriends.
The rape itself is as unpleasant as always, the camera staying tight on Eastwood’s face as she lies too stunned and shocked to fight off her attacker. Director Natalia Leite places the camera square with Eastwood so that the viewer can see the pain and anguish that Noelle is experiencing. It’s not seeking to glorify the depraved act as some others have done previously. There’s nothing ‘sexy’ about this attack, it’s just gross, disgusting, and I imagine a highly realistic account of date rapes across the world.
Francesca Eastwood (daughter of Clint Eastwood) is generating quite a name for herself. Not afraid to stand out on her own, she has shirked her father’s coattails and is doing some exceptional work within the indie circuit. This is the second film this year that I have seen her in where she has really impressed me, the first being the fantastic Cardinal X. In Cardinal X she was a supporting role, but with M.F.A she is front and centre, appearing in almost every scene. It’s a lot of pressure and the role is pretty intensive, both emotionally and physically, but Eastwood shines like the star she is destined to be. Her performance is subtle and grounded; Noelle could oh so easily been played as a girl gone mad, but Eastwood plays her with a balance of vulnerability and raging fire.
M.F.A feels like a film that should be shown in high-schools, colleges and Universities everywhere to raise awareness about sexual violence. Sadly, we live in a very real culture of rape, especially within a lot of American colleges, and it’s time that the matter was put to bed. At its base M.F.A is a genre film, but it’s one that has a really important message – serious crimes should always be reported and taken seriously, and victims must get the support that they deserve.
M.F.A review by Kat Hughes, October 2017.
M.F.A is currently playing as part of the Grimmfest programme.