Pippa Bianco’s deeply unsettling “Share” discloses the brutal horrors of high school sexual assault. With documentary-like candidness, Bianco expands upon her identically titled short film that won the 2015 Cannes Cinéfondation prize. The adaptation focuses on Mandy (astonishing newcomer, Rhianne Barreto), a biracial teenage girl who wakes up outside her home after blacking out at a party, knowing something is horrifically amiss. Scuffed knees and back bruises suggest something sinister, and neither Bianco nor Mandy shies away from immediately alluding to a worst-case scenario. Because of the staggering number of unreported, discarded, or simply disputed rape cases, there is no pretending something so pervasive in society – especially towards girls and women – doesn’t exist just because the justice system historically favors the accused.
Before she can ruminate on those missing chunks of time, Mandy receives a circulated video text from her classmates featuring an unconscious girl being disrobed from the waist down. Laughter from a horde of male student onlookers is beyond sickening, as is the perpetrator of the assault and owner of the cellphone recording, A.J. (Nicholas Galitzine). Mandy never denies it’s her in the video, though it seems everyone at school wants to move on so they can release themselves from uncomfortable speculation. Even Mandy’s most trusted male friend, Dylan (Charlie Plummer), nudges her to re-acclimate, yet his guilt-ridden face betrays any semblance of easy reintegration. Despite her basketball team’s support and empathy, the faculty and student body view Mandy’s victimization as a nuisance instead of the grievous violation that it is.
Stifling her grief and credible fear of further undocumented assault, Mandy nearly gives in to the peer pressure of silence until her parents discover the video evidence for themselves. Esteemed character actors Poorna Jagannathan and J.C. Mackenzie are divine as parents whose seemingly level-headed disposition begins to wither the further they go to cement legal repercussion. Once a formal criminal investigation is launched, Mandy finds herself an involuntarily phantom of her past. Where there was once an equal playing field when it came to sports and fraternization, she now finds herself ostracized and isolated. Furthermore, Mandy’s parents’ unwavering pursuit of retribution means her life will be uprooted beyond control, including athletic suspension and enforced school district displacement. Mandy desires and deserves the full truth regarding the night of her assault, but her ambivalence stems from the sacrifices she’ll make to get the answer.
Although “Share” doesn’t delve into the disproportionate rate at which women and girls of color are affected by sexual assault, it does comment on the gender divide regarding the perception of rape culture. In a defining scene that identifies differences in parental reaction, Mandy’s mother discusses how men view sexual violence as an anomaly, whereas women live and experience it so often that it becomes their mundane reality.
The problem is that the majority of lawmakers and community leaders aren’t comprised of women, thereby minimizing the urgency of combating rape and sexual abuse. Being believed is one obstacle, but then proceeding with criminal charges and going to trial can take years, not to mention putting the victim through an immense financial and emotional toll. Unless the process is expedited or revised to assist these victims better, Bianco’s shock ending intimates that most will simply put it behind them and renege seeking justice altogether.
“Share” is an uneasy watch that is among the most essential teen dramas crafted in some time. It is unflinching in its cold delivery, prioritizing authentic situational truth as a means of confronting audiences with real adolescent horrors. Moreover, it’s an affirmation that intuition, observation, and personal dignity violations are to be trusted and explored to the fullest, regardless of memory lapse. More often than not, the abuser is someone within the victim’s immediate circle. Bianco accurately posits that high school should be viewed as a dangerous arena, both on and off-campus, due to society’s normalization of sexual violence.