Justine Bateman’s Violet sees Olivia Munn face off against one of the most relatable antagonists at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Violet is a film executive who is not being the best version of herself. She lets her subordinates take advantage of her, turns down opportunities for career advancement and is unable to take things with lifelong friend Red to the next level. Her entire life is built on fear-based decisions, crippling self-doubt and self-esteem issues.
Writer-director Bateman employs a variety of techniques to illustrate Violet’s anxieties. Her own inner thoughts appear as cursive text on the screen. When intense situations become too much, the screen takes on a reddish hue until it becomes an overwhelming dark red and cuts to black. There are also a series of repeated images which appear that not only discombobulate Violet but also the audience. All of these help to put them into her headspace.
The main battle that she faces is the eternal struggle with the voice in her head. One that is always demeaning her and putting her down.
By having the film’s villain be “The Voice”, it is an antagonist that the majority of audiences can recognise and relate to. Everyone has that voice in their head that pops up to question why you are doing something. Although not everyone’s is voiced with controlling menace by Justin Theroux. For myself as a freelance film critic, that voice can be very loud, vocal and extra critical. Creating a sense of Imposter Syndrome, telling you your writing isn’t good enough and that you will never make it. Having experienced these issues myself, it created a deep connection to the film and the main character.
Olivia Munn delivers a performance full of fragility and vulnerability. However, as the film progresses she learns to stand up to the voice in her head. In gaining more control over her life, her performance adapts to fit her new mental state. She carries herself differently and even small, subtle mannerisms help to show she is becoming a different person.
Justin Theroux does his best to keep Violet down. As the disembodied voice, he feels like an angry, bitter, twisted version of Samantha from Her. His calm, clipped and malicious line delivery helps to bring her insecurities to life. One of the highlights of Munn’s performance is how she reacts to him even though he is not on screen. The two spark off each other to create a convincing symbiotic relationship.
Screenwriting legend Robert McKee said “characters must change… and the change must come from within”. Violet is a rather literal interpretation of this rule but is ultimately an empowering tale of believing in oneself.
Director: Justine Bateman
Stars: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux
Runtime: 92 minutes