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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Return to Sender movie review: yes, return to sender

Return to Sender red light

For almost the entire running time of this movie, we have no idea what it is about. What is it trying to say? What sort of story is it trying to tell?
I’m “biast” (pro): love Rosamund Pike

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In my head I’m calling this film What Is This I Can’t Even: The Movie. It works at least as well as the blandly generic and not even really apropos Return to Sender, which describes a tiny section of the second act that then resolves itself and has no further bearing on the story. In fact, the bearing it does have on the story hardly makes any sense at all, not on the level of plot, character, or theme. Not that the plot, characters, or putative themes make any sense on a whole-movie level, either.

What is this? I can’t even.

Miranda (Rosamund Pike: Gone Girl, Hector and the Search for Happiness) is a nurse. She’s not very nice to her coworkers or supposed friends, except when she’s making them master-pastry-chef-type cakes for their birthdays. “It’s just something I do,” she announces with faux modesty, when she really means, “You probably won’t even appreciate it as you shove it in your gob, you disgusting slob.” Credit, I guess, to Pike for making us understand that that is the subtext of her dialogue at that moment — though poor Camryn Manheim (Jewtopia, An Unfinished Life ) for having to play that coworker and “friend” as a person whose defining characteristic is that she is a fat woman who is constantly eating. (I mean, constantly, in every scene she’s in, for no reason at all, even when it’s not a birthday party. Even when she’s just answering the phone at the nurses’ station, while Miranda sneers at her.)

But even Pike, who is a fantastic actor, cannot make us understand why this cold, nasty bitch — there really is no other way to describe Miranda, and that’s being generous — behaves as she does after she is the victim of a terrible home-invasion attack. She lets William (Shiloh Fernandez: Evil Dead, The East) in because she thinks he is the blind date she is awaiting, and then he rapes her violently. Because of course he does. Creepy rapists skulking around outside ladies’ houses in broad daylight! Really, movie? It’s like a 1980s made-for-cable cautionary tale about women living alone and agreeing to blind dates. Anyway, it’s fine that Miranda is a disagreeable person, as potentially intriguing characters go, but that doesn’t explain, on its own, what happens next.

Well, actually, what happens next, for a long time, is almost nothing of any great import, at least as far as the script — by Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett — can be bothered to share with us. Miranda writes letters to William in prison, which is weird and awkward and massively WTFish, particularly because we have no idea what the contents of her letters consists of. He keeps rejecting those letters — hence the movie’s title — until suddenly he doesn’t. Why? Who knows. What is Miranda up to? What is going through William’s head? Your guess at this point is as good as mine: you now have as much information as anyone who has seen the film has about the motivations of either character. We might guess that Miranda is engaging in some sort of self-help therapy to reclaim her life and her headspace after such an awful violation, but we don’t know that. We might guess that Miranda is plotting some horrific revenge on her attacker that begins with befriending him, but we don’t know that either. (This movie is so divorced from emotional reality that it doesn’t even seem to consider that William might wonder why a stranger he violently raped is being so nice to him. Even a sociopath — which he may or may not be, who knows! — would be suspicious.)

For almost the entire running time of this movie, we have no idea what it is about. What is it trying to say? What sort of story is it trying to tell? The inept direction by Fouad Mikati — whose only previous credit is dumb action comedy Operation: Endgame — ensures that almost ever scene is anticlimactic, sometimes feeling cutoff midscene, leaving you wondering just what the hell was supposedly to have been accomplished dramatically therein. Mikati mistakes narrative coyness for suspense… and then ultimately he wants to be both coy and salacious at the same time. Which fails, spectacularly, to be satisfying either as emotional catharsis or as horrific revenge. The only thing I felt as I watched this was an overwhelming sense of ickiness. It’s bad enough that so much of pop culture seems to think that only thing that makes a woman interesting or worth telling a story about is if she is raped… and then this movie doesn’t even make Miranda interesting or worth telling a story about.

I don’t blame the cast — which also includes Nick Nolte (Noah, Gangster Squad) as Miranda’s dad — for this, but Return to Sender is so incompetent even on a basic storytelling level that it’s a wonder it’s even getting released at all. In fact, I suspect it would have stayed sealed away in a vault somewhere if not for some vague similarities between Miranda and Pike’s Gone Girl character. The people who sunk money into this movie are hoping you will be fooled into thinking you will be getting more of the same here. Do not believe it.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Return to Sender for its representation of girls and women.

red light 0 stars

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Return to Sender (2015)
US/Can release: Aug 14 2015 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: May 22 2015 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 18 (scene of sexual violence)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • a

    “It works as least as well as the blandly generic and not even….” were you going for “It works AT least as well as the blandly generic and not even?”

  • Yes. Fixed it. Thanks.


    Stumbling over multitudes of reviews via IMDB and watching how movies,
    the culture, critics, the business of Hollywood, people, and the
    delivery systems have changed over the past 50 years in real time
    prompts yet another question, Where are the people and the millions of
    hours wasted through movies? The obsession of them, reviews some so long winded as to rival the movies themselves, the content, who took over Hollywood (there is a definite turning point) just as there is for
    America which is very close in time to when Fascism (a noteworthy point
    of the Corporatocracy which has since permeated this country) is seen
    and accepted by the brainwashed masses, and also has become a champion through movies to deliver the messages both in your face and
    subliminally does not just seem to be the case, it is most definitely
    the reality of the non-reality of movies, and cartoons which spew out
    perversions of everything imaginable.
    The cell phone which causes so much anxiety when misplaced or lost and is for most a staple of life had a new reason to cause drama, how on earth can I survive without having a movie to watch anywhere and anytime I need one?
    More and more critics and movie goer’s/viewers are becoming aware that there is a mountain of the same old same old, rehashed nonsense, extreme boredom, sickness and perversity, stupidity both in screenplays and in concepts, and a resounding “what is the purpose of this movie which is a waste of my time, money, and more than ever actors talents?”

    It reinvents itself every year, the same themes with little men and their little guns, cops and robbers, murder, rape, black Escalades with the CIA-FBI, the occult, sex romps that are not humorous and ARE boring, and more and more on both Cable and the big screen a 25 fold increase in homosexual themes intended to express to you that “it is alright” when it is a disgusting and immoral state of being that your own intuition tells you it is, and it is not an opinion nor is it just a religious point of view
    as so many who have these feelings are not religious, but also school age children know down to their bones it is not for them, they don’t wish to discuss it nor should they have to, yet are put into focus groups of 5 students and belittled by the teacher when expressing anything negative about what they feel and know is wrong.
    It isnt entertainment anymore, but a vehicle to distract, distort, and keep truth from being that pesky thing that bothers you, by increments has displayed the family, marriage and relationships between one man and one woman as a joke and a barnyard spectacle, the controlled dinosaur media does not report what is relevant but lies and hides, distracts and keeps the manufactured non-reality alive. We invite this into our homes and pay for it, it takes valuable time from our families and others which cannot be replaced and has no value, and is a dumbing tool and a vehicle to debase, destroy and otherwise take from your lives, your family, and goodness if not attenuated and exposed and controlled.

    It is a tool to control, instill concepts and lend credibility to lies and distract you from reality and hide the truth, lying by omission.

    Anton LaVey, founder of the church of satan was exuberant while revealing that “we no longer need to enlist your children, they are brought to us by TV, the new altar of satan” and from that time until now the change has be alarming in content and availability from just sick sitcoms like Big Bang theory to pornography 24/7 which children have access to daily.

    I stopped watching what little TV I did for 2.5 years, cancelled my cable and in just that short time while being exposed to it again saw the content become more sick and perverse and the benefits from abstaining from this sh*te enormous and this in every area of life, found so many examples of the media lies and coverups from CNN and every other outlet which was compromised decades ago which was not unknown to me but was to many friends and others who were virtually addicted to the damn TV and could not function without it, and were so woefully bereft of reality, truth and what is going on in the world that it defies description, not just uninformed but brainwashed.

    Watch a sunset, Love on your kids and or grandkids, visit Mom n Dad, read a book, hug your wife and go for a walk, play with your pets, and GET A LIFE! Turn off the Walking Dead and Grimm, stop wasting your time and your life watching non-reality reality shows and look for the truth, LIVE your life instead of watching others living theirs, deny what will be later and it will be REGRET. I guarantee this will be your reward for the time wasted before the ALTAR.

  • Joe Salvone

    Spot on review! This has to be one of the worst films I have ever seen. Not only bores, but also offends. Stay away!!

  • And the abrupt ending is one of the unintentionally weirdest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

  • RogerBW

    The trailer made it look like generic rape-and-revenge, but it seems to have sunk below even that fairly low mark.

    I suppose one could claim this was a film about alienation (“you can’t see what’s going on inside people’s heads”) but that would be kind of lazy.

  • Chaka Gone

    I’m really upset this crazy lady poisoned the dog… plus the movie was horrid.

  • Thomas Watson

    So… she wants to get revenge, or is she just in love with him? I am not sure i got it.

  • RogerBW

    (Not having seen the film) I think that that tension is what’s meant to be at the core of the story. Such as it is.

  • As RogerBW notes, this is something we’re supposed to be in suspense about, even though it doesn’t give us what we need to be in suspense.


    She’s just out for revenge. And her revenge doesn’t even make any sense.

  • Pharoah Shepherd

    Just watched this movie and your points are dead on.. I really would have liked to know what she did to him,,maybe that would’ve not made me feel like I wasted my time.

  • Greg Risner

    I feel like I was watching the worst chapter of the 19 chapter book “Gone Girl.” It dawned on me that (not that I was looking) the audience sees a much – more revealing shot of Ben Affleck’s ding -a Ling (not important or relevant) than we saw of the rapist ‘s post surgical missing ding a Ling (should have been relevant).

    One fact remains: I am not going to mess with Miranda or Awesome Amy. The movie held my attention because I needed some renovation ideas. I spend the.last part of the movie wondering why she chose a 1960 kitchen telephone?

    Nick Nolte is the scariest part of the entire movie.

  • I was actually afraid for Nolte in this movie. Not the character — the actor. I thought he might keel over from a heart attack or a stroke at any moment.

    ** SPOILER **

    As for what happens to the rapist, I *think* the film is suggesting that Miranda amputated his *hand* (or maybe both hands?), not his penis — which is what I was expecting, too — but the film is so coy about when she did that it’s almost impossible to tell.

  • Astral Writer

    This woman manipulated this man to seek revenge at the end. He is responsible for ruining her life. Her internal motivation was to lure him, and then practice on him.

  • Astral Writer

    It is more a shocking twist. We knew this woman had some mental problems, which occurred post-attack.

  • Astral Writer

    Maybe this woman castrated this man. She said he is a rapist. Essentially, she is implying he will always be a rapist.

    This woman relied on revenge to rehabilitate her life. It was done in a cold manner, one she knew was wrong.

  • Astral Writer

    You can see a small circle of blood on the blanket, near his lower region. Miranda saying that he will always be a rapist leads to a possible castration.

    The man’s reaction is the same as the attacker in Teeth.

  • Raquel Zepeda Fitz..

    I had a very hard time believing the reactions of the characters; especially that of the father. No father would have reacted like hers. When she started visiting him in prison, I stopped watching. I do not even care what the message was. Its delivery was unacceptable to me. Her statement about visiting him made her feel better made me want to barf. If she had gone to the prison to give him a poisoned cake, maybe. If someone had done that to me I would be so enraged that I would pray to God not to give me the opp to kill him. Just not believable.

  • Jennifer Lux Meow

    What I got from this film is that her character is a psychopath. She mentions letting her mother die as well as giving the dog enough anti-freeze to cause death. Other mentions as well about being able to stab a guy in the neck but as her job description allows, it’s perfectly normal and people approve. Turns out to have a twist by the fact that the rapist raped a psychopath who then seeks revenge having the need to win at all costs. No doubt he is a low functioning sociopath himself who is impulsive. Near the end her father realizes this about her as well when he states to her that he doesn’t know her.

  • Jennifer Lux Meow

    Psychopaths aren’t crazy. She saw the dog as a nuisance to her being it didn’t care for her and that was her way of dealing with it. Notice she could have killed the dog at any point but waited until the dog was old and likely to pass away.

  • Jennifer Lux Meow

    She was a psychopath playing a game and wanted to let him know she was the one in control in the end.

  • None of what you say is untrue, but it’s not a defense of the film’s incoherence.

  • Faustina

    I agree with you 100%. But about what she did to him I don’t know why I have the feeling she only took one of his hands, castrated him and attached the dick ok the place of the hand cause it feels like something as fucked up as her. Besides what she says about surgery matches.

  • Bubu

    By far one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, I feel sorry for Nick Nolte a titan actor that he had to put up with that

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