The Voyeurs

Pippa and Thomas with binoculars

Sydney Sweeney’s big eyes and impressive breasts both work hard in The Voyeurs, a thriller that with a heart of pure trash designed to titillate even as it vaguely warns of the perils of being too interested in what other people get up to. As is often the way with these things, a hearty interest in what other people get up to is actually The Voyeurs‘ raison d’etre.

It starts with one of those grand cinematic establishing shots of a cityscape, the camera gradually zooming in, in, in, onto a street, a shop, then dissolving the window separating outside from inside, before advancing still further into this boutique selling lingerie, and towards a changing cubicle where Sweeney can just be glimpsed mid-change, a bit of sideboob on display. She wheels around, outraged, and yanks the curtain shut.

Theme established, writer/director Michael Mohan moves on to tone, and the big, swirly, elaborately lavish opening credits take us into a racy world of soft-focus raunch, one where Jackie Collins is still banging out novels about people banging each other and the idea is not to take any of what you’re about to see too seriously.

And then on to meet the players. Pippa (Sweeney), an optometrist and Thomas (Justice Smith), her boyfriend, move into a big loft apartment. No curtains, stipulates the lease, and on their first night there they spot their young, good-looking neighbours over the way, also in a large and handsome loft, having sex.

It begins, Pippa and Thomas’s voyeuristic obsession with their new neighbours, Seb (Ben Hardy) a photographer of the old-school “yeh, baby, make love to the camera” variety – but with tone, tone! – and Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) a retired model, Pippa later learns when Julia comes into her practice to have her eyes tested.

And well Julia should, since Seb is banging anything in (but soon out) of a skirt he photographs in his home-cum-studio. Seb is a handsome man with a sculpted physique and we’re treated to most angles of it as Pippa and Thomas, but mostly Pippa, start to use the couple opposite as a kind of on-demand live porn show. Binoculars have been purchased and the technically savvy Thomas has soon also rigged up a way of eavesdropping on Seb and Julia’s conversations too.

Pippa and Thomas are enjoying themselves, at first anyway, though Thomas is soon having misgivings, while the viewer is being treated to frequent references to Hitchcock’s Rear Window – the apartments are similar, the voyeurism is similar and eventually things go to the dark side in a murderously similar way. Ish. Ish. Ish.

Seb and Julia in bed
And here’s what they saw



Mohan is also partaking of a bit of voyeurism himself, his camera lingering on the talented Sweeney’s lips, her fingers, the swell of her breasts (though in the ostensibly more equal-opportunities 21st-century climate Ben Hardy’s body also gets plenty of attention). To be fair to Mohan, or any director working with Sweeney, the breasts come as part of the deal, and even in less overtly sexualised appearances – like in the thriller Nocturne (about girls who play the piano) or the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale – they start to muscle in on the action even in scenes where they have no role. They should probably get their own trailer.

There’s a money shot, in other words, in the film’s climactic moment, the one before the edifice of peek-a-boo crumbles to reveal that Pippa and Thomas (barely still in it by this point) have been played, before Mohan yanks the chain one more time as things become overwrought to such a degree that a “bravo” is actually in order.

In great Jackie Collins style it insists all along that it’s perfectly OK to be relaxed about sex and then goes on to detail how, exactly, it isn’t OK to be relaxed about sex.

It’s lurid, moralising, faintly nasty and entirely hypocritical, and it’s meant to be. It’s also erotic as hell, thanks largely to Sweeney, and Hardy helps, his young-Terence-Stamp-beautiful-and-damned hauteur adding value to all the weeks in the gym. It knocks the clankingly unsexy 50 Shades of Grey movies into a hat, cocked or otherwise. Talking of which, it’s coy about cock – Jackie would approve.





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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Nocturne

Vivian and Juliet

 

Nocturne is a story about two sisters. Twins. Both students at an arts academy. Vivian (Madison Iseman) is off to prestigious Juilliard soon; Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) isn’t. Vivian has a hot boyfriend; Juliet doesn’t. Vivian plays tricksy pieces by the likes of Saint Saëns; Juliet sticks with safe dependable Mozart. Vivian is feisty and popular; Juliet is moody and a loner.

Both seem reasonably accepting of their lot, until a fellow student commits suicide (we see her leaping from an upper floor in a pre-credits sequence), and Juliet comes into possession of a book once owned by the dead student, a book full of spooky satanic drawings with a medieval flavour.

Duh, duh, duuuh… right?

As the two girls vie for the scholarship place suddenly left open by their fellow student’s death, the imbalances in their relationship start to assert themselves and their sisterly mutual support system fractures – Juliet wants more than fate seems to have allotted her, and in particular she wants what Vivian has.

Dark forces are at work. Whether Juliet is harnessing them or being used by them is never made entirely clear, but darker than that is Juliet’s resentment at her sister’s talent and her inability to face up to the fact that she’s not going to be a Sviatoslav Richter or a Glenn Gould – by the time a musician is 17/18 that ship has already sailed. Instead of being one of the greats, very very good is a fail, and destines her to teach in an academy, like the teachers she’s surrounded by and increasingly despises.

So we have the underdog sister whose life of denial for her art isn’t going to have the outcome she wanted and the other one who’s no more deserving in terms of self-sacrifice, but who’s probably going to get it all.

 

Medieval occult drawing
Occult medieval drawings of the sort that do not bode well

 

It’s a tragedy, in essence, Juliet’s fatal flaw being her inability to face up to reality. She should probably be pitied rather than punished, but this is a film with a pitiless logic. It ends badly.

But back to that spooky book, with all the medieval drawings. Yes the one that seems a bit superfluous as a plot driver. It’s probably kindest to see the satanic/witchcraft/whatever element as a catalyst rather than a cause. Certainly, anyone hoping for pointy hats or covens, horned beasts, cackling, Latin invocations, pentagrams and all the paraphernalia of the supernatural horror movie has come to the wrong place. The occult element could be removed entirely and the film wouldn’t suffer.

Sydney Sweeney (of The Handmaid’s Tale fame) plays Juliet as a wide-eyed innocent whose behaviour becomes more coquettish, polo necks and demure colours giving way slightly racier items as her fixation (possession?) consumes her. As I say, Madison Iseman doesn’t get much of a look-in as the hotter/smarter/luckier/talented sister but it’s never in doubt who she is in this story – the golden child.

There’s a touch of Fame about it – kids in the performing arts game – and a fair bit of great piano playing. I just didn’t understand the point of the witchcraft element. I’m not sure that anyone did, really, right down to writer/director Zu Quirke. Perhaps the money men wanted it in, though it does at least lead to a splattery finale in which rough justice in meted out spectacularly though, to my eyes, unfairly.

 

 

Nocturne – watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020