Social issues have always been entwined in horror all the way back from Metropolis to Night of the Living Dead and most recently Get Out. We talk about it a lot here on BD because we think it’s an important ingredient in creating the perfect genre film.
One of the most important films of 2016 was Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, which landed Isabelle Huppert an Oscar nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role”. She starred as a rape victim who, instead of letting the assailant’s attack destroy her life, takes control of it.
Natalia Leite‘s M.F.A., penned by Leah McKendrick, is Elle “light”, a micro-indie version of the aforementioned dramatic thriller. Rising star Francesca Eastwood (daughter of Clint Eastwood and Frances Fisher) plays an art student who is raped by a classmate. After confronting and accidentally killing her attacker, she becomes a vigilante, setting out to avenge college girls whose attackers walked free.
While M.F.A. fights through budget restraints (it really does look and feel cheap), McKendrick pens a thoroughly engaging and important story that may be too “on the nose” for some. The film tackles serious social issues surrounding both rape victims and their assaulters. There’s heavy exposition that will come off “preachy” to the sensitive, but the screenplay actually beautifully juxtaposes Eastwood’s character, Noelle. M.F.A. is about driving home perspective, and helping the viewer both experience and understand what it’s like to be a victim of rape (not that one could ever truly understand what it’s like to go through such a horrific experience).
Leite doesn’t hold back, either, punishing the viewer with visceral and intense rape sequences in an effort to drive home her point. Yes, M.F.A is a movie/entertainment, but rape isn’t fun, funny, or sexy, and Leite isn’t going to tone down the emotional potency of her commentary for the sake of Hollywood or film distribution. She forces her viewers to sink in the horrors that Noelle and others experience.
In fact, the most impressive feat is that both Leite and McKendrick even make a point about being vigilant (or a vigilante), taking the slasher element of the film and filling it with useful commentary. M.F.A should leave you feeling angry; it should also provide an important emotional and conversational spark that hopefully will enlighten the insensitive.
Unlike many of this years SXSW titles, M.F.A. is intensely engaging, thought-provoking, and also mesmerizing. Aided by Eastwood’s dynamic performance (her emotional range is uncanny), M.F.A is an empowering film that’s just as enlightening.