Film Review: M.F.A.

'Death Wish' meets contemporary sexual politics on campus in this timely, if less than subtle, thriller.
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Aspiring artist Noelle (Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint) is pursuing a Master's degree at California's bucolic Balboa University, but she lacks both social and aesthetic confidence and doesn't seem to notice that gentle pal Shane (David Huynh) would like to take their relationship to the next level. Noelle's best friend, Skye (screenwriter Leah McKendrick), does her best to boost her self-esteem, and Noelle attracts the attention of scruffy Luke (Peter Vack), whose laid-back attentions conceal a classic college predator who rapes her on their first date.

Noelle quickly learns that the school's sexual-assault support network is sorely lacking and the police seem clueless. With nowhere to turn, she begins to entertain increasingly dark thoughts of the kind that will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen a rape-revenge thriller.

On the plus side for M.F.A., Brazilian-born filmmaker and actress Natalia Leite bypasses many of the clichés that make genre films featuring sexually based violence against women feel so sleazy; gratuitous nudity and soft-core shower scenes are conspicuous by their absence, as are voyeuristic characters who give male moviegoers a free pass to leer at women taking showers, skinny-dipping and borrowing each other's lingerie. And Eastwood—who's spent the last four years working her way through a series of modest television roles (notably on “Heroes Reborn” and “Oh, You Pretty Things!”—delivers a strong performance in what could be a thoroughly forgettable role. Though completely without backstory, Noelle actually feels like an individual rather than a standard-issue victim.

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