Violett (2023)

“What if I told you there was something else here in the house, and it’s not me?” says Sonya (Georgia Eyers) to her visiting mother Laura (Angela Punch McGregor) near the beginning of Violett

This is the perfect set up for a small-town Australian gothic, where in fact it is not always so easy to pry Sonya’s internal and external problems apart. At the end of Falls Road in the suburban town of Miles, the ramshackle old house which she shares with her husband Stan (Sam Dudley) and their beloved 11-year-old daughter Violett (Valentina Blagojevic) is indeed haunted by a presence that enters Sonya’s sleeping nightmares and increasingly her waking hours, even as the town falls prey to child disappearances which only help trigger further the mother’s anxieties. 

This latest film from writer/director/producer/editor/composer Steven J. Mihaljevich (The Xrossing, 2020) may be named for Violett, but it is Sonya who is both its focus and focaliser, as her neurotic, often hallucinatory perspective ensures a slippery narrative where reality is hard to pin down. From the start, Sonya is clearly not well, sunken-eyed and solitary, keeping her distance from the other parents and even from her husband – who is also her doctor – and often skipping the meds that he had prescribed her. While she seeks refuge in playing the viola and creating art on an easel, the fact that we see her painting sickly yellow sunflowers is a clear indication that she is as unhinged and on edge as van Gogh

Sonya drifts in a daze through her life, while dreams and delusions warp her senses. In one sequence an elderly neighbour (Suzi Aleqaby) transforms into a demonic apple-bearing figure like the witch from the cartoon of Snow White which Violett had earlier watched on the television. In another, Sonya’s visit to a tea shop with Violett transforms into a macabre monochrome silent-movie sequence (complete with intertitles and jaunty piano accompaniment). Like a paranoid schizophrenic, Sonya hears voices, sees things that no one else (besides Violett) can, and imagines the other folk in her street – like portraitist Victor (Jay Jay Jegathesan) or the handy man Edmund (Kingsley Judd) – to be grotesque monsters out to get her and her daughter.

Flashbacks to a childhood in which young Sonya (Mani Shanks) was terrorised by her slaughterman father (Simon Lockwood, who also plays the sinister Candy Man) – and made to endure her own silence of the lambs – leave viewers wondering whether this was the primal trauma that has led to her current state of mental decline, or the moment when the devil first found his way in, or just one rotation in an endlessly repeating cycle of catastrophic domestic dysfunction. No matter what, Sonya desperately seeks to keep her own daughter safe from the perceived dangers beyond the front door, even as she fails to comprehend or acknowledge what is going on at home – and Violett takes us on a delirious trip through this denial, from the inside out. 

All at once visually beautiful – thanks in no small part to Shane Piggott’s dreamy cinematography and colour design – and utterly disorienting, Violett depicts a deeply damaged woman struggling, like the artist that she is, to transform the horrors which she has seen into something more acceptable to the eye (and mind), despite reality’s insistent recursions and home invasions. This is an ever more harrowing psychological horror, as truths out – and in – and no secret can stay buried forever.

strap: Steven J. Milhaljevich’s Australian gothic psychodrama brings dysfunction, delusion and denial to a home on the edge of a small town

© Anton Bitel