Taking into consideration the very recent Harvey Weinstein sexual assault controversy, as well as the horrific Brock Turner case of 2016, the revenge-thriller M.F.A. is not only timely but also necessary.
Much like how Get Out stemmed a conversation on race relations in the United States, M.F.A. creates a dialogue on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.
Directed by Natalia Leite and written by Leah McKendrick, the film focuses on a timid art student, Noelle (Francesca Eastwood), who struggles to express herself through her work. One night while attending a party, Noelle is viciously raped by a fellow classmate. When her attempts to report the trauma are received with suspicion and victim blaming, Noelle decides to take matters into her own hands and confront her attacker– a decision that results in a grave conclusion. This incident becomes a catalyst for her inner vigilante to emerge as Noelle seeks to avenge other college women whose attackers have walked free, reclaiming her power and blossoming creatively.
M.F.A. offers so much to unpack. Star on the rise, Francesca Eastwood, delivers a dynamic performance. Her expressive eyes are haunting and her emotional range is nothing short of astonishing. Eastwood takes a flawed anti-heroine and makes the audience want to root for her. There is a certain catharsis achieved as her character takes out the attackers one by one. However, as we watch Eastwood’s metamorphosis into a black widow avenger, she brings an added depth to the role as her character gets sloppy and drunk with power.
Unfortunately, the scariest thing about this thriller is that the horror is all too real for many women.
Simultaneously, writer and producer Leah McKendrick is cast in the film in a pivotal supporting role as Skye, Noelle’s neighbor and close friend. Leah’s character is anything but your typical quirky best friend nor is she merely a vapid party girl. Rather, McKendrick creates a three-dimensional woman who is not only sexy and confident on the surface but displays complex vulnerability as she secretly battles her own demons.
As a thriller, M.F.A. has twists and turns that are heart-racing and gut-wrenching. While there are plenty of moments of levity, the film deals with rape which can be hard to stomach, if not triggering. However, director Natalia Leite and McKendrick approach the subject with sensitivity. Pulling from both personal experience and a female perspective, the more graphic scenes are not fetishized, as we often see in other films. That being said, the film does not water it down, rather it faces the uncomfortable reality and aftermath of sexual assault head-on. Unfortunately, the scariest thing about this thriller is that the horror is all too real for many women.
The unnerving topic that M.F.A. explores will hopefully serve a platform for dialogue. Perhaps, it will bring awareness to some and encourage others to speak out about their own personal trauma courageously. If so, M.F.A. may very well be one of the most relevant and compelling films of 2017.
M.F.A. is not rated. 95 minutes. Opening at the Laemmle Music Hall and On Demand Itunes & Amazon this Friday.