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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.27.17] thriller

In recent years, cases of sexual assault on college campuses across the US have sparked a heated conversation about the rise of "rape culture" but there seems to be little movement from governing bodies on dealing with this in any way which even appears to be making a change. There have been documentaries and other movies that deal with the issue openly but few have entered the world of genre film quite as squarely as M.F.A.

Francesca Eastwood (yes, of those Eastwoods) stars as Noelle, a shy student quietly working her way through an art degree. She's friendly but mostly keeps to herself. Caught daydreaming about a crush, she's invited to a party by said guy and the insistence of her friend and neighbour Skye, she goes to the party.

The night starts well enough and soon, Noelle and the guy are in enjoying a romantic moment when suddenly, the romance goes sour and Noelle finds herself the victim of a rape. Oblivious to having done anything wrong, he walks her out as if nothing is wrong and later even texts Noelle in an attempt to set-up another date. Noelle soon reports the incident but failed by campus administrators and fellow students, she eventually decides to confront her assailant directly.

Things don't end well for the guy and almost immediately after their second encounter, a switch goes off inside Noell. Gone is the victim and in her place, an avenging angel.

Leah McKendrick's script is a little on the nose when it comes to the emotional beats of M.F.A. while some of Noelle's monologues feel unnecessarily preachy - though I do love the graduation speech which feels like a honest-to-goodness manifesto to live by - but the movie overcomes the shortcomings with a great lead performance from Eastwood and solid direction from Natalia Leite. The movie relies heavily on Eastwood selling her character's turn from introvert to a woman angry enough to kill and she manages to pull it off. The progression of the deaths from accidental to prey is satisfying to watch as is Noelle's ever more audacious kills.

Leite guides the movie with an eye for detail, paying particularly close attention to the nuance in Eastwood's performance which grounds the film. This is particularly notable in M.F.A.'s final scene in which Noell gives the audience a fierce look of defiance; it's a small moment but one which packs a powerful punch.

Though it comes pretty darn close, M.F.A. doesn't fully cross over into horror. The decision means the movie should play well to more conservative audiences who may not be ready for the powerful message of empowerment that it delivers.

Recommended Release: Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2

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