New To Blu: Return to Sender

Andrew takes a look at the rape revenge drama, Return to Sender, released on blu-ray last week.

"Amazing Amy makes a mess!"

On the one hand, being an Academy Award nominated or winning actor/actress is an honor and key to success in the film industry.  Chances are if you garner one of the two accolades, you'll go miles ahead through the doors of opportunity.  On the other hand, attaining such success also means everyone gets to see your unwanted dirty laundry hung out to dry.  Such was the case with Ellen Page after Juno as the floodgates burst wide open with forgettable and downright bad straight-to-video titles exploiting the actress's name in search of the almighty dollar.  The latest victim of this mercenary and sadly ongoing trend is Gone Girl Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike. 

After garnering mainstream critical and commercial attention with David Fincher's film, now stuff like Return to Sender which otherwise would have remained on the shelf has found distribution and an ugly spot on the poor girl's resume.  Much like Ray Liotta's bit part in the rotten Pia Zadora flick The Lonely Lady, Return to Sender is nothing less than an embarrassment for Rosamund Pike which should be buried and quickly forgotten.  Even without Pike in the picture, what's here is another rape revenge flick missing both the thrills and payoff associated with these kinds of exploitation flicks.  If you were expecting the over the top just desserts being served up in I Spit on Your Grave, this stagnant and dour Lifetime Channel exercise neither gives us a reason to care nor anything substantial for Rosamund Pike to do.

The story of a small town nurse who has all she can hope for and more gets a nasty reset on her life when an invader rapes and beats her in her own home.  Left bruised and broken physically and emotionally, Return to Sender could have been a galvanizing study of Pike's gradual transformation into the avenger but instead is a torpid slog through incredulity and an unfortunate collection of disinterested guest performers.  Take Nick Nolte for instance as Pike's aged father, who saunters in and out of the movie at random with not much more to his character than appearing grandfatherly.  For such a great actor, one has to wonder if his troubled personal life results in having to accept the paycheck for diarrhea explosions such as this. 

Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead) as the rapist is dependably creepy but even his motivations are flat and underexplored, making him a stock action figure instead of a real character.  Also wasted in an inconsequential role is Illeana Douglas, better known as the rape victim in Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear.  Even Ryan Phillippe shows up in this as, low and behold, the UPS delivery guy!  Here you have an entire cast of otherwise great actors who aren't so much underutilized as they are stuck in a dull movie they never should have signed onto.  Pike does what she can with her paper thin uptight daddy's girl including appearing in a choreographed raped scene but much like Rosanna Arquette in The Divide, you just feel sad and sick seeing such a gifted talent being so egregiously misused and needlessly exploited. 

"Somebody get me a damn beer!"
As aforementioned, this is a rape revenge drama and those accustomed to these kinds of exploitation flicks should by the end see some kind of justice being doled out on the wrongdoer.  Some are more realistic like Gaspar Noe's fire extinguisher murder in Irreversible where the recently released I Spit on Your Grave remake provides more of an over-the-top crowd pleasing finale of booby traps spoken of the same breath as Home Alone.  The pinnacle of the subgenre is a toss up between Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring and Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, elevating the shock treatment to a level of high art.  But with Return to Sender, prepare to keep waiting for the payoff because what we finally get is so underwhelming and unresolved that if you saw this on Lifetime (where it obviously belongs), you'd be inclined to change the channel.  Not out of disgust, but out of boredom and indifference. 

In all likelihood Rosamund Pike, as with anyone rewarded with new found fame and fortune in the film industry, will move on from this dirge and the other actors I imagine will also emerge intact and unaffected.  But as an audience member stuck watching this useless and disengaging trash, I'll provide some hopefully helpful advice in the form of a warning: if you're walking up and down the new release aisles of your local video store and see Return to Sender on the shelf, do yourself a favor and leave it there.


-Andrew Kotwicki

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