Rape in cinema is a difficult topic. It is a traumatizing event that is used far too often as a piece of spectacle or plot development to prove a character’s strength. But in this era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, female directors are taking up a new perspective on the rape-revenge film, one that reclaims the exploitation often seen in that genre. A prime example is Natalia Leite’s 2017 film M.F.A., a horror-thriller that takes vigilantism to the extreme as a woman kills rapists on her college campus.
Masters student Noelle is raped by a fellow classmate, leaving her shaken and seeking some kind of consequence for his actions. The school won’t do anything, her friends won’t do anything, so she takes matters into her own hands. In an attempt to get an apology or acknowledgement of what he did to her, Noelle accidentally kills him. This awakens a dark side within Noelle, one full of justified rage and hurt, not just for herself but for other survivors of sexual violence she meets after her rape.
M.F.A. addresses the rampant issue of sexual assault on college campuses and the lack of care given to survivors. Using the guise of horror and gore, Leite’s film handles these issues in a way not typically expected from the genre. In a genre that is often about violation, M.F.A. offers one of the best cinematic representations of what it means to give and revoke consent.
Despite its difficult subject matter, M.F.A. is an essential piece of horror cinema that illustrates how to depict rape on screen without sensationalizing the act or unnecessarily demeaning female characters. Leite’s film speaks to the very real issues women face today and the lengths they’ll go to in order to try and earn some sort of justice.