So, has Rosamund Pike just been doomed to play nothing but psycho-bitches for the rest of her career? Why? Is it her sharp, angular facial structure? Certainly this isn’t enough to mark her as the next Dyanne Thorne. But it seems that we have become so obsessed with Pike’s ability to pull off that icy blonde brand of stone-cold crazy that we have lost sight of the fact that she is a remarkably well-rounded actress capable of depicting more than just one kind of character. Faoud Mikati’s thriller Return to Sender isn’t going to help matters. Here Pike plays Miranda Wells, a well-to-do nurse with aspirations of becoming a surgeon. She spends her little spare time not spent with her elderly father (Nick Nolte) baking massive, immaculate cakes for her co-workers. But something snaps inside her after being raped by crazy-eyed, long-haired William Finn (Shiloh Fernandez). Pike cannot abide his near-immediate arrest and incarceration: she needs to destroy him, slowly, painfully, completely.
Eventually we get around to the kind of performance that a) we as an audience want to see from Pike and b) she was almost surely hired specifically to give. Emotionally seducing him with love letters and prison visits, she lures him back into her life. After suddenly being released from prison for unspecified, inexplicable reasons, William comes back to her like a love-sick, albeit blatantly psychopathic, puppy. Long, predictable story short: she captures him, poisons him, tortures him, and mutilates him, all while laughing one moment and sneering the next.
Sub-par direction ruins whatever creativity and originality could be gleaned from the film’s odd approach to the rape-revenge formula. What should have been the most disturbing scenes–Pike’s prison visits and conversations–are spoiled by both actors speaking in inaudibly low, raspy tones. There were entire scenes between the two where I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. Mikati has no idea how to handle an actress of Pike’s caliber: she’s left on a low, simmering boil of insanity for the whole movie. From the very first scene, we know that she’s irrevocably crazy. It would be one thing if, as with Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), we were supposed to suspect that she was unhinged from the get-go. But Miranda Wells doesn’t strike me as that kind of character, and Return to Sender doesn’t strike me as that kind of movie. I don’t see intention, I see incompetence.