Return to Sender ✮✮1/2

Beguiled

by Glenn Lovell

A tasty little morsel with more than a few unexpected twists, Image Entertainment’s “Return to Sender” with Rosamund Pike deserved better than to be summarily shipped off to Video-on-Demand Land. Shot before “Gone Girl,” it has obviously been dusted off now to capitalize on Pike’s Oscar-nominated turn as Amy Dunne, the bored wife who stages her own disappearance. Actually, Pike’s earlier turn as a nurse who concocts an elaborate scheme to have her pound of flesh is more provocative. In places, her cool, alabaster appearance and aloof front are put to better use.

In “Sender,” Pike plays Miranda Wells, a critical care nurse whose ambition and independent demeanor hide a number of neuroses, including fears of men and germs (which may be interchangeable in her life). Determined to take control of things, Miranda shops for a new house pikeand agrees to a blind date with a guy named Kevin. On date night she opens the door to someone she thinks is Kevin but is really a stalker named William (Shiloh Fernandez of “Red Riding Hood” and cult item “Deadgirl”). Aware of her mistake, she attempts to muscle the guy out the door, but it’s to no avail.

Severely traumatized, Miranda falls into a near-catatonic state. Her usually gruff father (Nick Nolte) tries to help, lending a sympathetic shoulder, but is rebuffed. Miranda’s only hope may be to look the imprisoned William in the face. Can a variation on Stockholm Syndrome, where she begins to empathize with her assailant, be in the offing? Stranger things have happened, as we learn daily from the crime-blotter section of the morning paper.

Directed by Fouad Mikati from a script by Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett, “Return to Sender” at first seems sluggish and over-plotted. This is Mikati laboriously hammering home plot points that will later come into play. But about 15 minutes along it takes hold, and never lets up. Indeed, as Miranda’s and William’s roles change and Miranda begins to toy with the now soulful-looking rapist, Mikati and Pike manage an almost palatable sense of dread. (The unnerving music, which at times sounds like the muted woop-woop-woop of helicopter blades, helps here.)

Definitely a slow-burn thriller, “Return to Sender” is the latest in a number of female payback movies, including Don Siegel’s “The Beguiled” and Miike’s masterful “Audition.” It would be interesting to double-bill it with “Extremities,” the 1986 adaptation of William Mastrosimone’s play, starring Farrah Fawcett as the victim who methodically turns the tables on her attacker — with considerably less relish than Pike does here.

RETURN TO SENDER ✮✮1/2 With Rosamund Pike, Shiloh Fernandez, Nick Nolte, Camryn Manheim. Directed by Fouad Mikati; scripted by Patricia Beauchamp, Joe Gossett. 95 min. Unrated (would be R for adult subject matter, including violent rape, profanity)

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