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An emotionally investing, empathetic look at rape and revenge through a unique perspective, “Rose Plays Julie” is compelling and important.

Horror is a fluid genre. What terrifies one of us bores another. What bores one leaves others petrified.

One type of horror that I — and many others — personally find chilling and disturbing is rape-revenge horror. It’s a divisive genre with a fair share of controversy. Still, many survivors of assault find it to be a cathartic and even healing subgenre that parses through the ideas of justice in a world where little tangible retribution for rapists is found.

It is a type of wish fulfillment, a version of our reality where the perpetrators pay for what they did.

The films require us to face a cruel world and interrogate the real lack of justice regarding sexual violence. The people in these films would not be taking justice into their own hands if there was justice to be had in the first place. The concepts of reality and fiction blur, and for many, these films are too real.

According to RAINN, only 50 perpetrators out of every 1,000 cases of rape will be arrested, only 28 cases out of 1,000 will lead to a felony conviction, and only 25 out of 1,000 perpetrators will be incarcerated.

Those dire statistics put just how little distance there is between the brutality of rape-revenge horror and our own real-world horrors.

The 2019 Irish film Rose Plays Julie is a unique look at the concept of rape and revenge told through the eyes of a young woman conceived via rape.

Directed by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, the film blurs the lines between drama and horror, but it is a worthy entry to this long and storied subgenre.

Emotionally investing, it shows the ripple effect of sexual violence and how that trauma can easily generate generational trauma. It’s an empathetic portrayal of complex women navigating the labyrinth of violence.

Pair that with engrossing and sensitive acting and deft direction, and Rose Plays Julie is a film that deserves to be on everyone’s radar — genre fan or not.

The titular Rose (Ann Skelly) seeks out her birth mother following the death of her adoptive mother. Rose does find her mother, an actress named Ellen (Orla Brady). Rose eventually meets her mother, albeit jumping through a few hoops in order to do so, and subsequently learns about the harrowing way she was conceived.

Rose, named Julie at birth, was conceived when Ellen was raped by archaeologist Peter Doyle (Aiden Gillen) on a golf course many years ago.

This information sets Rose on a path of retribution, to enact revenge on her birth father on behalf of her birth mother. Rose poses as a young woman named Julie, who is an actress researching archaeology for a role in order to grow closer to Peter. The film spirals into an emotional thriller that sticks with viewers long after the credits roll.

Rose is a young woman desperately trying to find a connection.

The death of her adoptive mother has left her unmoored in a sense, so she clings to the idea of her birth mother.

Ellen is sympathetic to her daughter, even eventually becoming a mother figure to her over the course of the movie. The inherent bond of blood and mother-daughter relationships is explored in the film.

Rose and Ellen’s relationship will naturally be complicated due to the circumstances of Rose’s conception, but the two have an understanding of one another. Ellen chose to give birth to Rose, viewing Rose as a positive outcome to a negative occurrence.

Not all women will choose to give birth to children conceived by rape; it’s a personal and nuanced choice with no right or wrong answer.

Ellen reflects a subset of women who choose to carry the child to term and place them for adoption.

It’s understandable why Ellen chose this route. It was the best one for her mentally at the time. The film highlights the importance of choice in these matters, and it doesn’t demonize or lionize Ellen for making the choice she did.

It allows the situation to be multi-layered to reflect the gravity of these real-life situations without falling into the harmful pro-birth rhetoric that many rape survivors who fall pregnant are subjected to.

Naturally, Rose seeks out her father, the man whose violence is at the crux of her very existence.

It’s not unusual for children conceived via rape to find their fathers, and some even go out of their way to bring them to justice.

A woman from the UK, dubbed Daisy, was similarly put up for adoption like Rose. Daisy accessed her files about her birth parents upon her 18th birthday and shockingly discovered the knowledge that she had been conceived during her mother’s rape in the 1970s. Her birth mother was only 13 years old when Daisy was born, while her father was then 28.

Daisy pursued justice for her mother, citing that she was physical proof of her mother’s assault. In 2021, Daisy was able to bring her father to justice. Carvel Bennett, Daisy’s father, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

In January 2023, Daisy’s Law was passed in England and Wales. Daisy’s Law officially confers victim status on children that are born as a result of rape. Daisy herself campaigned with the Centre for Women’s Justice, and they were successful in creating more rights for children conceived by rape.

Daisy’s case and the necessity of Daisy’s Law are harrowing real-life examples of stories that mirror Rose’s own.

As a way to grow close to her father so that she can ultimately kill him, Rose poses as Julie, a young actress researching archaeology for a role.

Peter is all too disgustingly eager to take the young woman under his wing. It’s not difficult for the viewer to imagine him taking advantage of Ellen when they were younger. Peter’s life is practically perfect, and he operates as if he has no guilt. Peter’s carefree nature and thriving life fill Rose with anger, understandably so.

Ellen has to live with the trauma of her rape, and Rose has to live with the knowledge of how she was conceived. Peter ruined both women’s lives with his entitlement. Rose is trying to reclaim the narrative, desperately making a play to right the wrongs done to her mother.

The emotions within Rose Plays Julie are raw, real, and involving.

The movie makes the horrors of rape culture and all of its facets up close and personal.

With a taut atmosphere, Molloy and Lawlor weave a tale that takes the concept of rape-revenge to a new and pertinent territory. Children conceived via rape are victims that are often left out of the rape-revenge dynamic. The scope of sexual violence is made clear by Molloy and Lawlor.

The result is a brave film, a film that magnifies the ugly parts of society that a significant portion of the public tries to avoid.

Rose Plays Julie deals with some weighty subject matter. There are no simple answers, only difficult questions and the weight of trauma.

Sexual violence is an epidemic within global society as a whole. It is something that touches the lives of all around us. It is a horror that cannot be escaped. This film is unique and courageous and should be considered an important entry into the canon of the rape-revenge subgenre.

The narrative is handled with care, and the directors pour emotional intelligence into the portrayals of Rose and Ellen.

It is an uncomfortable film, but it is the sort of film we need.

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