Return to Sender | Film Synopsis & Review
I’m not going to lie, this movie is a bit confusing. Now, I’m not talking about David Lynch or Ingmar Bergman confusing; I mean what in the world just happened with the script confusing. I kid you not, the pacing and story of this film goes in one direction and then takes a hard right turn into the absurd without any catalyst for it. I mean, it honestly feels like a huge chunk of the story went missing and no one bothered to fill in the gaps. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let me recap the plot of this movie.
We start our lead Miranda Wells, played by Rosamund Pike, overseeing a surgery in the hospital she works at. Closing in on her last few days as an RN, we find out that she is transferring departments in order to become a surgical nurse. During this scene, and the next 20–30 minutes of this film, we set up how career driven, single and OCD Miranda is. While out with her small group of nurse friends, one of them, played by Rumor Willis, convinces Miranda to go out on a blind date with one of her friends. She is very weary about this at first but then begrudgingly agrees. The next day, she has lunch with her father and we learn they are very close and that she lost her mother at a very young age. When she excuses herself to use the restroom, one of the waitresses busts in and asks for her help with a man who is choking and is too big for anyone to get their arms around him to perform the Heimlich. Miranda rushes out, accidentally running into a busboy on the way, and saves the man’s life by performing a tracheotomy. Once she is done everyone claps for her.
The next day, we see Miranda preparing for her blind date. While she is doing her nails she spots someone on her front porch. She walks out and see a “semi-well dressed” man waiting outside. She assumes that’s her blind date and he introduces himself as William. Miranda invites him in and apologizes because she’s not quite ready and didn’t know he’d be so early. Now, red flags should probably be popping up left and right for her at this point considering the movie has set up how cautious she is. In Miranda’s defense though, she does seem to catch on little by little that something is off with this man. They talk as she continues to get ready and you can just feel the tension in the room as he’s saying some pretty strange things that make her physically uneasy. Once Miranda is ready, William creeps her out to the point where she asks him to leave. He immediately refuses and locks the front door. She tries to run away through the kitchen but he stops and overpowers her. Miranda is then brutally raped and beaten.
Later on we see her actual blind date, who shows up with flowers, after William has fled. He notices the door is open so he lets himself in and looks for Miranda. Thankfully the camera does not show this but the man finds Miranda bruised and bloodied; terrified, he promptly calls the police. We then see Miranda in the hospital giving her statement to the police. They ask her if she knew her attacker and she identifies him as the busboy from the restaurant she ran into the day before. While this is going on, William tries to skip town but stops by the restaurant first to pick up his last paycheck. Luckily, the police are already there and he ends up in prison.
After this horrific incident, Miranda is affected in the worse way; she constantly shakes, she’s much more paranoid and, worst of all, they had to stop the sale of her house due to no one wanting to buy a house a woman was raped in. William literally takes everything from her, which is what makes her future actions completely baffling. Trying to move on with her life, Miranda spends some time with her father and his dog, whom she doesn’t like, during her recovery. While she’s recouping, she decides to write to William and ask him to put her on his visitor’s list. She sends him multiple letters but they all come back with the stamp “Return to Sender” on them. Miranda does not give up though; she continues to write to him until she finally gets one of her letters back with the words “you win” written on the back. Miranda then goes to see William for the first time in prison. At first, their interaction is very awkward; and why wouldn’t it be? A woman is confronting her rapist who doesn’t seem very remorseful about what he did. Miranda asks him why he did what he did and all he really does is dance around the question by profusely apologizing and saying he knows he’s messed up. Instead of pushing the question, she then asks him about how the food is in prison. Afterwards we see her return to bring him a home cooked meal.
After this, we then get treated to montage of Miranda continuing to visit William in prison wearing some pretty provocative stuff. She doesn’t tell anyone she’s going to see him and, during those frequent visits, it actually seems like Miranda’s flirting with him. There’s a scene near the end of the montage where she comes to visit him and she dresses up in this nice white backless dress, makeup and heels along with a basket full of baked goods. She waits around for him but an officer informs her that William is in the infirmary but won’t tell her why. When she’s told this, she actually seems very sad and disappointed. Later she has another visit with him and he tells her he was stabbed during yard time. Miranda asks him to show her his scar and he slowly lifts up his shirts. Miranda takes in the sight of his large scar and almost erotically traces the vertical path of it with her finger pressed up against the glass.
Following their visit, we see William’s rather violent interaction with his cellmate that is brought on by him stealing a Valentine’s day card given to him by Miranda. This is a very important scene because it establishes William’s true character; He brutally slams his cellmate’s head on a table and holds him down. He then says something threatening that makes me think that he is possibly raping his cellmate. Later on, we see Miranda going over to her father’s house and he sorrowfully tells her that his dog has died; she then helps her father bury the dog. At yet another visit with William, he informs her that he’s up for parole soon. She seems a bit stunned by this news but quickly shrugs it off.
In an unsurprising turn of events, William does indeed make parole and the first thing he does is send Miranda a small bouquet of flowers to her work. She calls after receiving them and scolds him for sending flowers to the hospital. The next day, while Miranda is coming home from grocery shopping, William shows up and says he’s “eager to fix things”. Something he actually mentions during her visits with him in prison. He does say he’s good with his hands and likes to fix things. Subtle metaphor? I think not. She has him get started by doing some work on her porch while she does some landscaping. They make eyes at each other the entire time and you begin to wonder if this woman is starting to fall in love with her rapist. He then leaves and the next day he stops by the local hardware to buy paint for the porch. While at the hardware store we see that Miranda’s father is there. Once he recognizes William and the piece of wood that matches the color of her porch, he immediately heads over to Miranda’s. He promptly yells at her and asks what the hell she’s doing inviting her rapist to help her fix her porch and she pleads with him saying that she needs him to fix the porch. Basically, letting him fix what’s broken symbolizes him fixing what he did to her. To Miranda, this would be much better than sitting in therapy for the next few years just reliving the worst day of her life.
The next day, William comes back to continue helping with the porch. During this scene, some very sensual music plays as he helps her paint an old rocking chair. They’re sitting very close to each other and you could feel some kind of tension brewing. Almost the opposite of what happened when they first met, which lead to her brutal beating and rape. Moments later, William says he’s not feeling well and asks if he could use Miranda’s bathroom. Obviously skeptical, she asks if he could make it home and he says no. After a few brief moments of contemplation, she allows him to come inside. We see William give a little smirk of gratitude and he heads inside. As soon as the door closes we hear a thud. Some unspecified amount of time later, we see William lying in a bed in the basement of the house. Miranda, dressed like she’s ready to go on a date, walks in and tells him he passed out. He’s kind of out of it when Miranda suddenly flips the script on him and she then goes full on psycho. She says she’s never forgotten or forgave what he did to her. William struggles and then finds out that he’s tied to the bed. He freaks out and asks what she did to him. Miranda explains that she poisoned the lemonade she gave him with antifreeze every time he came over to help with the porch. She then continues to monologue about how she had a bad twitch after what he did to her but, after “taking her power back”, it seems to have gone away. After this revelation, we find out that she’s cut off his penis. At least I think that’s what she did because the blood seems to be around his hand but he seems extremely mortified when she shows him his reflection in the mirror positioned on the ceiling. The look William gives in this scene is the look of a man who’s lost more than a hand in my opinion.
After Miranda’s Bond villain monologue, she maniacally says: “You’re Right. I Won.” This is of course a reference to when William finally broke down and allowed her to visit him in prison; writing that same thing on one of her letters. Later, we see Miranda visit her father, who is still rightfully pissed off at her. She and her father talk for awhile and she assures him that her interaction with William is all over. And that’s it. The movie ends.
This film… this film. I don’t even know where to start. On the surface it looks like a film where, in a strange case of Stockholm syndrome or something, a woman literally falls in love with her rapist. Then, out of nowhere, it turns into a “I Spit On Your Grave” revenge flick that ends in some form of decapitation. I get the fact that this woman plotted her revenge since before she even started writing those letters to William but, her eventual turn is not even a little bit set-up. Miranda suffers this tragic event, reaches out to and connects with her rapist, allows him to help her fix her porch and and then, all of a sudden, goes Lorena Bobbitt on the guy? I feel like this turn comes way out of left field and leaves me with more questions than answers. For example, in her big monologue at the end, she mentions that she tested the amount of antifreeze to give him by administering it to her father’s dog. During the course of the film, we see that the dog is not really fond of her but that doesn’t seem like anything we should have paid close attention to. The dog gets sick and dies but, as a viewer, you just think “oh, well that’s just some non-important background information” not a major plot point. Oh, and let me not forget the story of how Miranda’s mother died. Throughout the course of this film we get a few scenes of her and her father talking about how her mother and how it was so unfair that she found her mother dead at such a young age. Next, while she gets to know William, Miranda tells him that her mother had really bad asthma and had an attack when she was little. She was not able to get to her medication in time and ended up suffocating. During her psychotic monologue we learn that Miranda is the reason this happened; her mother was having an attack and Miranda made it so she could not get to her medicine.
So, huge reveal here: Miranda killed her mother at a young age. We don’t know why or how she’s somehow a serial killer but we learn all of this with only 20 minutes left in the movie! Now, if we had gotten some flashbacks of Miranda’s relationship with her mother or even the day she died, like some kind of “unreliable narrator” point of view, this would make sense and there would be more to draw from for this reveal. But, no; we get none of that. I will say though, I hate movies that treat the audience like idiots that need everything spelled out for them. However, there is a really big difference between having every little plot thread spelled out to you and not giving any setup for a major reveal at all. Miranda’s turn in this movie came out of nowhere and it doesn’t help the progression or finale of the film at all. Like I mentioned earlier in this review, the movie starts off like a woman who is brutally raped and falls in love with her rapist… then it turns into a psychotic thriller? None of this is even a little bit set up and I don’t know what the writer and director were thinking but they probably thought they had put in enough small hints that would make us understand this ending. In the film’s favor though, it did try to hint towards Miranda’s dark side. For example, when William shows her his scar from when he was shanked in the yard, Miranda almost lovingly runs her finger down the glass over the scar. When I first saw this scene I didn’t think anything of it but, at the end, I realized she was aroused by the fact that he was nearly fatally wounded. But you really wouldn’t know this during the scene because of the way it’s framed.
Another subtle telling scene is when she’s talking to William on the phone while shaving her legs in the tub. He was supposed to come by to help fix the porch that day but saw Miranda and her dad arguing and decided not to approach the house. While he explains that he was basically stalking her, she cuts herself while she shaves. It’s a slow, kind of eerie cutting that, upon first viewing, just looked like she was going crazy but apparently was supposed to signify her being upset that her prey had the drop on her. This is a very subtle scene that doesn’t really foreshadow her eventual turn and you can see how the film suffers because of this. Honestly, Return to Sender could have been a really good, head-scratching psychological thriller but it got so caught up trying to fool the audience with the twist that it entirely lost track of the clues and visuals that would have held the twist ending up. Basically, this film lost track of its entire plot and for that, I suffered from extreme frustration. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend watching this film but, if you would like to at least experience it for yourself, give it a watch.