Calling the group of people in “Miss Violence” a family is like calling prisoners of war safe because they have shelter. There’s no truth in it. What truths there are exist in front of the viewer from the start, but little is spoken of them. Viewers astute enough to piece “Miss Violence” together will find the puzzle horrifying, but the toil well worth it. Trauma triggers abound in the movie. Be wary.
In a bone-chilling opening sequence, 11-year-old Angeliki (Chloe Bolota) jumps off her balcony on the afternoon of her 11th birthday. An investigation into her death ensues, and it becomes clear to everyone outside the family that something isn’t quite right.
The narrative is a creeping powerhouse, boasting a depth of meaning that rears its head in unexpected ways. Surprising is the wrong word to describe it, as there’s no delight to the secrets uncovered over the film’s 98 minutes.
Everyday items like doors, tables and groceries become disquieting symbols for whatever lurks beneath the family’s facade. Director Alexandros Avranas manipulates the frame in increasingly innovative ways — peeking in and out from behind walls, choosing to focus on reactions in conversations rather than actions. The resultant atmosphere is almost suffocating.
Father (Themis Panou, “Poios ti zoi mou…”), aided by a fearless performance from Themis Panou, becomes a faceless giant. The quietude of the man is off-putting in a primal way. Alongside him, Mother (Reni Pittaki, “The Dust of Time”) is a force in herself. While her stone-faced expression gives nothing away, her specter-like presence haunts every scene.
The sheer depth of character is astounding. Turn after deplorable turn reveals new depths to the family, adding layers onto a narrative already stacked with nuance. What’s laudable is how effortless it all seems. Avranas makes the camera and the viewer one, meandering through a home life that’s indescribably perverse.
More than once, characters look straight through the screen at viewers. Their unflinching gazes will make anyone shift in their seat. Like its spiritual predecessor, the 2008 Greek family drama “Dogtooth,” “Miss Violence” unfolds over long takes and seems to meander. But the startling originality of it is apt to invigorate cinemaphiles and the morbidly curious in equal measure.
Bolstered by a twisted feminism, “Miss Violence” is as ambitious as modern filmmaking gets. For those who are in sympathy with it, the message is clear, and just like the audacious performances from every actor, the story never backs down from the darkness. It stands steadfast in front of it, locking eyes and forcing viewers to look just as deeply. The truth you’ll find there is horrifying — just don’t expect the movie to give it up easily.