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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Before ‘Deep Water,’ ‘The Voyeurs’ Tried to Modernize the Erotic Thriller [Sex Crimes]

With the long awaited arrival of Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water last week, and the attention devoted to Ti West’s exploration of pornography, exploitation and horror films, “sexy” is back in fashion. There’s no better time to reevaluate the legacy of erotic thrillers, a subgenre of horror that exploded in popularity in the 80s and 90s before going into decline in the 2000s.

Despite the relative dearth of films catering to “adult” audiences (in both senses of the word), the erotic thriller never truly went out of style. It’s simply that the output of the subgenre slowed to a trickle after a steady flow of films examining strippers, babysitters and extramarital affairs in the decades before. 

Lyne’s return to the subgenre is significant in no small part because he’s the director of several of its most iconic entries: 1986’s 9 ½ Weeks, 1987’s Fatal Attraction, 1993’s Indecent Proposal, and 2002’s Unfaithful. In the interceding time, however, societal attitudes about sex have shifted. So, too, has accessibility to pornography (be it hard core or soft core); from vanilla to the most niche kink, nowadays there’s a plethora of sexy content available to anyone with an internet connection. 

The mixed reception Deep Water has received is emblematic of how the landscape for sex and thrills has changed. Critics have labelled the film boring because it doesn’t contain enough sex or nudity, attacked the last act (arguably the film’s most conventional “thriller” component) for being ridiculous and complained that star Ben Affleck is delivering too subdued a performance.

Debates about whether it is fair to expect Deep Water to revitalize an entire subgenre aside, its release begs the question: what is expected of an erotic thriller in the 2020s? 

erotic thriller

Ben Hardy and Natasha Liu Bordizzo in “The Voyeurs”

Enter Michael Mohan’s The Voyeurs, a 2021 entry in the subgenre that flew under the radar despite featuring rising stars Sydney Sweeney (HBO’s ‘Euphoria’ and ‘The White Lotus’) and Justice Smith (Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and Detective Pikachu). The pair star as Pippa and Thomas, a couple moving into their first apartment together in Montreal. In no time at all, Pippa and Thomas quickly develop a voyeuristic fixation on their neighbours, Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and Sebastian (Ben Hardy), who have a sexually charged, emotionally abusive relationship.

Initially Pippa and Thomas simply eavesdrop on the couple, but in no time at all, Pippa becomes increasingly obsessed with the intimate details of their relationship, despite Thomas’ pleas for her to stop. For most films this conflict – and the looming threat of being discovered – would constitute the whole narrative, but The Voyeurs, however, is only getting started. Mohan’s script features a barrage of unexpected twists and double-crosses that continually raise the stakes; the final 30 minutes of the film’s approximately two hour runtime veers into complete WTF territory repeatedly

The Voyeurs was rightfully met with mixed reviews when it debuted on Amazon last September. The best description is that it is the cinematic equivalent of a car wreck: it’s incredibly messy and convoluted, but that’s what makes it impossible to look away. Mohan’s willingness to go for broke – however bizarre, unrealistic or sheer “oh no, they didn’t!” – is what makes the film so eminently watchable. It’s a film that has to be seen to be believed; like the cursed videotape in The Ring, once consumed, there’s a desire to immediately foist The Voyeurs onto an unsuspecting victim so that they too will become infected by its unconventional charms. 

deep water trailer ben affleck

Ben Afflecks stars as Vic in ‘Deep Water’

The dramatic escalation of stakes and gonzo plotting is what makes The Voyeurs stand out most from its 80s and 90s counterparts. Lyne’s Deep Water is sexually frigid and emotionally constrained thanks to Patricia Highsmith’s source material; by contrast The Voyeurs feels emboldened…though not in the traditional “erotic” sense.

It’s as if the film understands that the titillating tactics of films like Jade and Basic Instinct have become antiquated in a post-internet world. Rather than strive for erotic shock value, The Voyeurs focuses its attention of the “thrilling” aspects of its ridiculous narrative. While expected scenes of sex and nudity are present and accounted for, these are hardly the talking points that will dominate the discourse once the credits have rolled.

Alas Mohan’s audacious and brazen attempt to reinvigorate the subgenre failed to generate the necessary buzz and The Voyeurs remains a curious oddity that too few have seen. The jury’s out on whether Deep Water will resonate more in the cultural lexicon, but both films stand as (admittedly wildly varying) examples of how to craft an erotic thriller for modern audiences. As we’ll see in future instalments of this series, engaging audiences with this type of content wasn’t always such a challenge!

The Voyeurs is available to stream on Amazon Prime

Sex Crimes is a column that explores the legacy of erotic thrillers, from issues of marital infidelity, to inappropriate underage affairs to sexualized crimes. In this subgenre, sex and violence are inexplicably intertwined as the dangers of intercourse take on a whole new meaning. 

The post Before ‘Deep Water,’ ‘The Voyeurs’ Tried to Modernize the Erotic Thriller [Sex Crimes] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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