(Scott Reynolds, New Zealand/USA, 1998)


This is the kind of film that it is best to discover without any prior information or expectation. Fortunately, the key promotional line behind it – an invitation to "indulge in the sexiest thriller" – will keep most ordinary punters in the dark well enough.

It is hard to say what kind of movie this really is. It is, by turns, brutal, sleazy, ironic, melodramatic, camp and humanist. The characters constantly transform from grotesque puppets to poignant, suffering beings, and back again. The style veers from shameless, naive soap opera to Tarantino-deluxe.

Trash-video connoisseurs familiar with writer-director Scott Reynolds’ debut feature, The Ugly (1997), have a head start in appreciating this strange, disconcerting, hypnotic film. Like its predecessor, it is essentially a New Zealand production, bolstered by Miramax finance and a few American actors. However, the local accent – in style, language, sensibility and attitude – is intense.

One viewing was not enough for me to entirely comprehend the plot. It unfolds in a dream-like haze, scrambling time, multiplying points-of-view and exploiting uncanny repetition. Everything seemingly emerges from and returns to a veritable primal scene: the beating of the hapless Robert (Martin Donovan) as he tries rescue Heaven (Danny Edwards), a transvestite, from the rough clutches of a few thugs.

In between the permutations of this scene, a range of rather unlovely characters is sketched for us – including the loud-mouthed club owner, Stanner (Richard Schiff), forever advertising the film he hopes to write; the shifty and thoroughly unscrupulous psychoanalyst, Dr Melrose (Patrick Malahide); and Robert’s bitchy soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jennifer (Joanna Going).

These characters and situations have appeared in a hundred cheesy, late-night erotic thrillers on video and cable. Like Raúl Ruiz in Shattered Image (1998), Reynolds takes these grimy conventions and raises them to a new level of inventiveness and seriousness.

If there is any film destined for long-term, fervent cult worship by B movie fans, this is it. It takes risks and courts excess at every point, as it busily embroiders a basically meaningless, vacuous story. When, finally, it tries to make the big slide from all-round amorality to moral depth, it doesn’t quite succeed. But the effort is impressive enough.

© Adrian Martin December 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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