Plus, director Natalia Leite reveals the personal reason she wanted to make the vVigilante thriller, which opens Oct. 13

By Clark Collis
October 13, 2017 at 10:00 AM EDT

In the very timely M.F.A, Francesca Eastwood plays an art student named Noelle who is sexually assaulted by a fellow classmate. Attempting to cope with her trauma, she impulsively confronts her attacker, leading to a violent altercation that culminates in his accidental death. Noelle tries to return to normalcy, but when she discovers she is only one of many silenced sexual assault survivors on campus, she takes justice into her own hands, and a vigilante is born.

M.F.A. is directed by Natalia Leite and written by Leah McKendrick. The film costars Clifton Collins Jr. and Peter Vack.

“It’s a psychological thriller with a strong female anti-hero that we rarely see represented,”says Leite in her director’s statement. “While there are countless examples of likable men doing bad things in film and television — Don Draper, Walter White, Lester Burnham, Tony Montana — we rarely see a likable female anti-hero.”

Leite says she wanted to make this movie because of her own experience.

“When I was in my late teens I was sexually assaulted by a boy in my art school. I felt sick for days. Angry, confused, ashamed, alone. I didn’t know who to turn to for help and had no examples of women speaking up and finding justice for this crime. Rather than have this be part of my life’s story, I pretended it never happened; it seemed easier to deal with a trauma that way. But no matter how often I claimed amnesia, I couldn’t shake it. Only now, years later, have I been able to speak openly about what happened and find the support I needed. Sadly, my story is all too familiar for too many women.

“I wanted to tell this story because we live in a world that doesn’t fully acknowledge the severity of sexual assault or its effect on the victims. Women are constantly bullied into being silent and feeling responsible for someone else’s crime. That silence manifests itself in psychological effects that can be seen even years after the assault takes place.

“While violence is never a solution for any matter, In creating a female Dexter-type character, I aimed to give these women a cathartic experience — the sense of relief that comes from vengeance through the safety of fiction. Since working on this project, I’ve noticed how many women have been sexually assaulted and their need to talk about it. Now is the time to speak up about this issue and address the severity of rape crimes and the long-lasting repercussions they can have on their victims.

“We need to open the doors to discussions about rape and rape culture, so that we can begin to reconcile our collective past and create a future without amnesia. If M.F.A. can act as a catalyst to these conversations, then all of the hard work we put into it will be worth it.”

Watch the trailer for M.F.A. below and an exclusive clip, above.

M.F.A. opens in theaters, on VOD, and via HD Digital, Oct. 13.