Reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Childhood did a number on Violet Calder (Olivia Munn). There once was a time when she was happy and confident and in control. Now, not so much. Not that she’s incapacitated: Violet’s worked her way to the top of a Hollywood production company with several successful projects under her belt. She just doesn’t see it that way. Her head is filled with voices, “The Committee,” she calls it, and they won’t let her feel successful. Or happy. Or content. Or whole.

It’s a clever twist that The Voice Violet hears is a domineering patriarchal one. Justin Theroux provides the vocals, each one a direct command or a ruling sent down from upon high. The other voice in The Committee is silent, depicted in desperate text appearing on screen. The Script is cursive and fluid. It leads me to think that if The Script could speak, its voice would be feminine.

The Script express Violet’s fear, her pain, her desire to move on from the damnation of The Voice. The Voice will have none of that. It won’t let her take pride in her work or see that Red (Luke Bracey), one of her oldest friends, is also there for more reasons than one. Instead, The Voice convinces her that she’s worthless and weak and might as well sabotage whatever good she has. In one flashback, Violet is getting ready to leave the apartment and goes to blow out the lit candles on the bookshelf. The Voice convinces her not to. It’ll make the apartment smell nice, The Voice implores. But Violet doesn’t want to listen. You’re so uptight, The Voice continues, isn’t that what he doesn’t like about you?

He is Martin (Simon Quarterman), an ex-boyfriend who reenters Violet’s life when she least wants it. Running into an ex is never easy, but this scene takes the cake. Violet’s body language conveys an ocean of anxiety rocking back and forth, while Martin’s trepidation, The Voice’s doubt, and The Script’s cries for help pile emotions on top of each other. It’d be unwatchable if it weren’t so damn identifiable.

Written and directed by Justine Bateman, Violet is a 90-minute descent into the dark echo of those moments. The moments vary from benign to hostile, awkward to confrontational, but in Violet’s head, they’re all the same. They all come with the consequence of life or death. If she makes the wrong choice, takes the wrong path, there’s no telling what might happen. It’s unnerving and immersive. Cinematographer Mark Williams uses changing planes of focus to keep us in Violet’s perspective, while Jay Friedkin’s editing uses quick inserts of disturbing images to keep us off balance. Add in The Voice and The Script, Munn’s layered performance, and Bateman presents a character that you don’t so much root for as you do empathize. Strong stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Violet (2021)
Written and directed by Justine Bateman
Produced by Justine Bateman, Larry Hummel, Michael D. Jones, Matt Paul
Starring: Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Simon Quarterman, Luke Bracey, Erica Ash
Relativity Media, Rated R, Running time 92 minutes, Release date TBA.