The Voyeurs review – Amazon’s fun and sexy erotic thriller throwback

Remember sex at the movies? It wasn’t all that long ago – the 90s, maybe even the early aughts – that studios believed in the narrative utility and simple entertainment value of watching professionally good-looking people engaged in acts of intimacy. Decades of chastened blockbuster heroes, their ascent at the expense of the mid-budget character pieces for grownups that have all but gone extinct, have estranged the public from the combination of maturity and libidinous fun that once made the erotic thriller a dominant industry force in Hollywood. We’re starved for touch, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say we’re thirsty. A dry, flavorless cinema has left viewers with a taste for the lurid parched.

Michael Mohan’s new film The Voyeurs has come not a moment too soon, just in time to quench us with a sorely needed throwback to the heyday of skin and secrecy. Wielding a nasty cunning and just the right amount of irony, he sets up a playful take on Rear Window for the age of nude leaks that lays bare the roiling carnal subtext of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. At last, a homage that dares to ask, what if Grace Kelly had been able to give the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart a hand job the first time they both looked in on his neighbors across the way?

A franker articulation of the titillatingly unethical desires that crop up while peeping doesn’t mean compromising on subtlety, egter. Mohan applies meaningful nuance to the sequences that might seem like they just want to get our blood pumping, aware that people reveal their truest selves in details like the positions they choose, their body language, what pushes them over the brink of orgasm. Hier, sex is not a writer’s device but a real thing shared between characters that behave like real people. Better still, he’s not timid about pleasure for its own sake. He wants us to watch, at our own peril.

Doesn’t hurt that the flirty foundation gets laid by the well-matched pairing of the sensitive, handsome Justice Smith as Thomas and the enigmatic, almost unrealistically attractive Sydney Sweeney as Pippa. Her Jayne Mansfield-esque build is very much part of the point in a film obsessed with the politics of ogling, though the detachment she previously displayed in The White Lotus keeps the audience at an arm’s length even if they can’t look away. She exudes an absorbing yet forbidding presence in her character’s private moments, but a couple of shaky monologues and some faltering in pivotal moments suggest she has plenty of room to grow as an actor. What’s important is she shares a relaxed chemistry with Smith befitting a young couple that’s just hit the point of cohabitation in a vast downtown Montreal loft. Their goofy rapport makes their relationship seem plausible, as do their uncommon jobs – he composes background music for infomercials, she’s an optometrist. Grounding flourishes like this, as well as their duly dumbfounded reacting to the lunacy awaiting them, will come in handy once the twist-heavy plot starts to skirt camp.

Though he’s gotten his wild years over and done with, she’s just coming out of med school and wants to live a little, so she embraces her kinky side when they notice the couple (Ben Hardy and Natasha Liu Bordizzo) one building over going at it. From there, it’s off to the races as a bit of harmless friskiness crosses a series of lines into jerry-rigged wiretapping and surveillance. There’s never a dull moment in these two full hours, which blaze through affairs, hookups, sexy Hamburglar costumes, explanations of laser physics, some deaths and the occasional flash of true emotion with a winning savviness. Every time a viewer might think they know where it’s all going, the nimble script hops one step ahead. More impressively, the tone has been calibrated to perfection, flirting with the absurd while stopping just short of overt goofiness. For all its un-shyness about bodies, the film has a way with wily suggestion; smash cuts liken mutilated eyeballs to split-open soft-boiled eggs, and sensuous closeups can turn a routine optometry exam into a mechanical form of coitus.

Recent years have yielded enough tame, weak-sauce renditions of this premise for no benefit of the doubt to be given, and the bland trailer cooked up by Amazon doesn’t do this one any favors, either. But this is the real deal, an ideal cocktail of funny, diabolical and perverted. There’s a high level of competence at play that similar movies just can’t muster, to the point that even the Chekhov’s guns are laid and delivered upon with tact and surprise. Mohan handles his audience with care, diligence, attentiveness, creativity, smoldering passion – the mind positively swims with sexual metaphors. That’s the headspace in which this film leaves us: a well-made gutter we haven’t had the chance to visit for far too long.

Kommentaar gesluit.