Return to Sender is the kind of wholly misconceived thriller that begs asking precisely what its filmmakers were seeking to accomplish. Director Fouad Mikati brings pedestrian gusto to Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett’s bizarro script, in which Miranda (Rosamund Pike) is raped by William (Shiloh Fernandez) and proceeds to spend the remainder of the film slowly plotting revenge against him. The basic framework is mere routine; Miranda has no specificity beyond the kind of hollow detail you’d find on her résumé, and Mikati casts a flimsy pallor over the character’s psychological torment as she methodically seduces William into believing she’s interested in starting over and, you know, forgetting about the whole rape business.
That’s where Return to Sender is most asinine; there’s no sense of its premise as either a metaphorical stance on female agency or even as a seedy embrace of its lascivious elements, which wouldn’t have been the worst direction considering the film’s hard turn into straight-up exploitation terrain once Miranda gets her man on the slab. Before the dick-slicing commences, the film dances around worthwhile topics, like real-estate hardship and gender-based, workplace ethics, but has little stance on any of it. Miranda is a nurse and dedicated baker, perfecting her icing technique when she’s not palling around with fellow nurse Nancy (Camryn Manheim) at work. An early scene displays Mikati’s potential for interesting visual choices, as a parabolic tracking shot charts a harmless conversation between the pair about Miranda’s upcoming blind date. That initial flair is unfortunately squandered in favor of soap-opera staging, with characters either isolated in shot/reverse-shot or in cut-and-paste two shot, and accompanied by Daniel Hart’s forgettable score, which dutifully connects the film’s solemn dots by literally reflecting Miranda’s emotional state at every turn. The rape sequence itself, inside Miranda’s home, is merely hacked together, edited and staged so forgettably that it reveals Mikati’s apathy for the material as a whole. In such a traumatic moment and as the anchor of Miranda’s subsequent pain, Mikati’s indifference instantly sinks the film.
The hour-plus that follows flounders between banal representations of PTSD, as when Miranda can no longer hold her hands steady enough to frost a cake, and a grosser dollop of clinical misogyny that understands Miranda’s pain only as a means to falsely empower her through reciprocal violence and torment. Were the film truly interested in the idea that Miranda could not only forgive her rapist, but choose to attempt a meaningful relationship with him, Return to Sender would take its characters seriously and into a more honest, difficult direction, rather than bandying them about as foreplay before the presumed bloodbath. When Nolte barks that Miranda should consider “other options instead of having your rapist over for dinner!,” Mikati plays the beat like a deadly serious chance for reckoning, which would be fine, except there’s barely any point in which it’s made compelling or clear as to exactly what Return to Sender is supposed to be grappling with.