Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 28, 2015)
Oh, the tangled web that the dating scene weaves! 2015’s Return to Sender gives those mating rituals the thriller treatment.
Miranda (Rosamund Pike) works as a nurse at a small town hospital. She agrees to a blind date with Kevin (Billy Slaughter), but a guy named William (Shiloh Fernandez) shows up instead. He pretends to be Kevin and sexually assaults her.
Even after William goes to jail, Miranda remains emotionally tormented. To ease her psychological pain, she reaches out to him, and this creates an improbable relationship. When William gets out on parole, though, matters once again complicate.
When Sender succeeds, it does so mainly due to Pike’s lead performance. Despite a dodgy American accent, Pike manages to bring depth to her part, and she conveys the character’s difficult emotional journey well. No matter what stretches the script throws at her, Pike handles them nicely.
Unfortunately, Sender tends to overplay its hand and pushes the bounds of credulity. For instance, does William really seem like kind of guy with whom Miranda’s friends who arrange a date? She’s prim and proper to the point of seeming OCD, and he’s more like the seedy drifter who stands outside 7—11 and badgers you to buy him a beer. And in this wired, always connected day and age, wouldn’t her friends show Miranda a picture of the guy first?
More aspects of the movie make little sense. The story goes out of its way to harass Miranda after her rape, and that all feels gratuitous. A more effective story would show Miranda’s edginess in response to banal activities, but instead, the film places her among such aggressiveness and rudeness that her responses seem logical. Pike still manages to convey the character’s anxiety, but the events hinder the effectiveness of these sequences.
Also, the path toward the climax pushes the bounds of logic. I understands why it does what it does, but it requires too much of a leap from the audience to accept it. By the climax, Miranda’s motives become clearer, but the film’s largely lost us by then.
Pike manages to keep our interest despite these flaws, but she’s not quite enough to turn Sender into a winning experience. It seems too erratic and flawed to become a satisfying film.