Young girl attends unsupervised party, gets fall over drunk, and is then gang-abused and raped by a group of boys who exploit the circumstances and a position of relative privilege in an attempt to dodge any repercussions. I have come across several versions of this sorry tale, more than one from real life.
This one has two additional layers behind it, a true account and a novel. Perhaps director Mike Barker recognised the familiarity of the narrative and rather than looking for ways to transcend it, instead decided to take it to the max, with visual clichés laid on heavily at almost every location — such that what we have here is a sort of Cruel Intentions/Great Gatsby mélange with the addition of a a gang rape and a high school shooting.
To make a film featuring a mass casualty incident that is largely incidental to the main story is, in a sense, some achievement. The shooting and the making of a documentary about it appear to have been depicted in a particularly unrealistic manner in recognition of their potential to be more interesting lead elements in the narrative — and nothing is going to be allowed to trump one individual's personal trauma here.
I had seen pleas in the media for this film to feature a 'trigger warning' for teenage girls not expecting a depiction of rape, which led me to anticipate something truly hard to watch like the tunnel scene in Irréversible, but have to conclude that Barker handled this part quite sensitively, cleverly even, as the abuse is shown as the victim herself might have recollected it vaguely and disjointedly afterwards.
At the start I thought the main action had been set in 2015 because the mis-en-scène would be partly political, but we are sent back seven years not because this is the pre-Trump moment, but because it is the pre-#Metoo moment.
I haven't read the novel by Jessica Knoll, but I have a hunch that it handles the balance of the key elements more thoughtfully than the movie. One of the abusers, the sole survivor of the massacre in fact, is permitted to articulate all the reasons he should not be submitted to his victim's personal truth in major national newspaper: I was drunk, young and ignorant, I have a wife and daughters, my blameless family have suffered immensely and I have already paid a heavy price — plus, I have visibly atoned for what happened by devoting my life to a cause.
Ani listens, and takes some of this on board, yet has concluded that she has an obligation to be honest in perhaps the most brutal of ways, for reasons that are as rooted in what has happened since, than the specific long-standing grievance which sits between them. This to me is the essence of the story, yet almost every decision taken by the film-makers has diluted it.
And when we are just trying to get our heads around this unresolve-able confrontation of self-justifications, the plot then immediately tells us that we don't need to worry if Ani is wholly right, because what matters is not her own validation, but the other long-suppressed agonies that her op-ed will help to assuage. Her vindication is necessarily part of a collective.
At this stage older Ani is a barely sympathetic character, partly because Chiara Aurelia's younger version should have been our way into the story, and partly because all the jeopardy in her life seems to relate to only half-heartedly satirised personal and professional privilege, and she never quite shakes off the aura of the status-seeker.
She hits rock-bottom for me in terms of her personal appeal when, right at the end, she tells a journalist who basically re-articulates the presumably by then defunct Dean Barton's position to go fuck herself, a burst of anger she perhaps might have more daringly directed at her abuser himself.
But Mila Kunis is box office and so, even though there were perhaps better ways to make this movie, this is the one that will reach the widest possible audience.