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Dark Sky Films // Unrated // November 28, 2017
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jesse Skeen | posted December 25, 2017 | E-mail the Author

MFA, whose title comes from the Master of Fine Arts academic degree which the main character is pursuing, has been mostly promoted as a revenge film and seemed potentially satisfying- the main character suffers a brutal rape and then makes the perpetrator pay for it- dearly. 1978's I Spit on Your Grave, done with little sense of taste or restraint, is a perfect example of that. For me however this turned out to be partly about revenge but also partly a "social issue" movie, where the writers want to address a problem and have it appear to be nearly inescapable and happening everywhere in the world the story takes place.

Francesca Eastwood (Clint's daughter, who appeared with him at a much younger age in 1999's True Crime which was a rather forgettable movie aside from the "speed zoo" scene) is Noelle, a graduate art student whose paintings are considered just kind of "meh" by her peers. Fellow student Luke (Peter Vack), who seems like a decent enough guy at first, eyes her from across the classroom and after some flirting via art criticism invites her to a party at his house. Once there the two of them end up in his room behind a closed door and Noelle decides he's pushing things a bit too fast, but Luke already has his mind made up and forces himself on her despite her protests. Suddenly he doesn't seem like such a decent guy anymore. Noelle quickly leaves and her housemate Skye (Leah McKendrick, also the film's screenwriter) tells her not to let the incident ruin her life. Noelle still can't shake it off, but instead of letting herself be a victim she decides to get even. She starts out by confronting Luke, who keeps texting her to come back over to his place as if nothing bad had ever happened. She finally accepts his invitation, but only to demand he say he's sorry. When he nonchalantly replies "Sorry for what?" she loses it and a freak accident occurs leaving him dead.

A subsequent police investigation leads detective Kennedy (Clifton Collins Jr, who seems to be letting his beard keep growing for this shoot) to Noel as she shows as the last person Luke contacted on his cell phone, but she easily lies her way out of any suspicion. Most of the campus sees Luke's death as a "tragedy," and this pushes Noelle to dig a bit deeper into sexual assaults on campus. She finds a story about a female student who was gang-raped by a group of "star athletes" who even posted a video of it online, but they got off scot-free while she was ostracized for having taken any action. In most similar cases, it seems there's a general "blame the victim" attitude which enrages her further, causing her to go into vigilante mode. Her first act is to purposely dress sexy and go to a stereotypical drunken frat party, and then lure one of the perpetrators into bed and kill him by drugging and strangling him. As she goes after the others, she finds out that Skye was also raped by another "star athlete" and had everything swept under the rug when she tried to report it, further fueling her desire for revenge.

This isn't handled in a necessarily exploitive way however, when it easily could have been and the advertising leads one to expect that. Eastwood's performance treads a delicate line between being emotionally ruined and mad as hell- her attacks are rather straightforward and emotionless with very little of the results onscreen, but appear to leave her feeling empowered afterwards. The initial rape scene, essential to the storyline, doesn't try to be especially shocking either. Paralleling this, as absolutely nobody else knows what she's been doing (there are a few scenes with the authorities interspersed but they don't even seem to have a clue as to who might be involved), her artwork changes yielding positive reactions from her professor (Marlon Young) and others who weren't impressed with her work before. The movie is shot rather well, with most scenes in sharp focus with bright colors rather than a dark gritty atmosphere that these types of stories often take on. This makes it further difficult to tell what sort of movie this wants to be- a Death Wish type story of revenge, or a Lifetime movie that says that this is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with but in reasonable ways?


The digitally-shot picture, presented here in a 1.85 ratio, tries its best to look like film but the absence of grain gives that away. The color scheme almost subconsciously shifts depending on Noelle's mood and events she's faced with, but for the most part colors are on the bright side which prevent the atmosphere from seeming dark. I noticed just one instance of banding on the Blu-Ray, which may have been inherent in the source material than the disc's encoding.


The disc includes two audio options: 5.1 DTS Master Audio or 2-channel PCM which the menu indicates as "lossless" (the first wave of Blu-Rays had multi-channel PCM tracks, and it's a shame that hasn't become the norm.) The "Dolby Digital 5.1" logo on the back cover is erroneous. Both mixes are rather simple but fit the general atmosphere fine, with clear dialogue up-front and an atmospheric music score. Hearing-impaired subtitles are included.


The only significant extras here are a few minutes of video interviews with director Natalia Leite and primary cast, and some of their comments are repeated throughout. The general consensus amongst them is that this movie is trying to show that campus sexual assaults are a problem that needs to be addressed, though not in the ways fictionally depicted here. This is one movie where a commentary track would have explained the movie's true intentions and why things were handled the way they are. A trailer for MFA is also included and the disc opens with trailers for It Stains the Sands Red and Nails, which annoyingly are encoded as separate titles on the disc along with bumpers before each which must be individually chapter-skipped through to get to the movie.

Final Thoughts:

Although MFA fell a bit short of my expectations and gets a bit ridiculous at times when it seems to want to be taken seriously, I still found it quite watchable mainly for Eastwood's performance and the photography with its slightly brighter than natural color scheme, somewhat lightening the mood of the unpleasant subject matter without trivializing its seriousness. It'll likely leave many with mixed feelings also, but I'm giving this a Recommended.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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