There is a saying that, if you can’t make up your mind, flip a coin. While the coin is up in the air, you’ll find yourself rooting for a particular outcome, and thus will know what you really want. The Boy has adopted this philosophy to a 20-sided die he carries around (because you don’t always have a coin) and he has applied it successfully to several difficult movie choices. So, a few weeks earlier, when this movie South32 (no space between “South” and “32”, at least some of the time), the Die of Fate had decided we should go see it. And it wasn’t easy. Things kept coming up. (Traffic, for example, ended up routing us to Remember, which led to us seeing First Monday In May.) Fortunately, the movie was playing all day for at least two weeks—which is a fairly long run for a film that none of us had ever heard of, starring nobody we knew, with no reviews anywhere, and still marked as “in production” on IMDB. (It’s still listed as “in production” on IMDB!)
Scene of the crime. I mean, making this movie.
Sometimes, of course, there are “Academy screenings”, used to make a film eligible for a particular year’s Oscars. But those are usually once-a-day shows, sometimes for a single day, but never more than a week. Sometimes, there are vanity showings. Arena of the Street Fighter, perhaps, was screened because somebody paid the Laemmle for one Sunday morning show. Or, I suspect, Scream At The Devil, which got a few days of one or two night shows. (Scream at the Devil makes a good contrast with South32, as I’ll elaborate on in a bit.)
What I’m getting at, though, is that I have no explanation for South32, except that it was perhaps a vanity showing from a very rich (or very indulged) person. The movie indicates that it’s a movie about bullying, which was definitely part of the reason we saw it. (We love bullying!)
The story is this: Delilah nervously arrives at a Malibu home, where three former classmates want to apologize for how they treated her sister. Apparently, they bullied her into suicide. Delilah sees through them as, apparently what they’re really concerned with is that she’s trashed them on Facebook, and this has had a negative impact on their lives. But, in the course of their discussion, it becomes apparent that they’ve drugged Delilah—who’s apparently a moron, having accepted their offer of a drink—fade to black. But when the scene fades in again, the three of them have been brutally murdered, and Delilah remembers none of it.
In those first moments of optimism, especially going in to a movie more-or-less blind, there’s a sense of, “Well, this could go any number of ways.” It could be a mystery, or a slasher, or a ghost story…well, it’s probably not a romcom, right? I mean, the detective seems unreasonably attracted to the…
OH, MY GOD! IT’S AN EROTIC THRILLER!
If only I’d seen the poster…
Now, if you weren’t going to the movies (or watching them on cable) about 20-30 years ago, you may not be familiar with the erotic thriller. It is a genre with its roots in film noir and hard-boiled detective stories that really kicked into high gear with the success of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. It was a genre that took the thriller genre and added enough sex to be titillating in a pre-Internet world without the embarrassment of having to rent actual porn when you went to the video store. (Remember those?)
It was huge. It made Shannon Tweed the video queen. (For several years, an erotic thriller starring Tweed was like printing money. She was the #1 draw.) It was a draw for soap stars and, I suspect, actresses who wanted a turn as the femme fatale. (Basic Instinct made Sharon Stone a star.) Shari Shattuck (of Scream at the Devil) was the femme fatale in the third of the Body Chemistry series, for example.
It also was beaten to death. After all, you don’t need much more to make an erotic thriller than you do a porno. And so, many filmmakers made them with exactly that level of care, which is to say “none at all”. And even in their best cases, like Basic Instinct, they’re really not very good films. They generally make slasher films look like deep character studies by comparison, because at least in a slasher pic, the motivations (don’t get slashed!) are clear and understandable.
You’ll sit here and think about what you did, missy.
But in the erotic thriller, the detective investigating a murderer has to fall for the suspect (and this is the predominant trope over Fatal Attraction‘s someone-has-an-affair-with-a-crazy-woman) hard enough to set aside not just his common sense, but his will to live. And, often, to sell this, the movie has to try to convince the audience that She’s Not The Real Killer.
But She’s Always The Real Killer.
So, all of the things we see Her do when no one’s around make no sense. They exist solely to convince the audience that she’s not the killer.
I’m talking about erotic thrillers generally and not South32 in particular because there’s no reason to talk about South32 in particular. It’s just like one of those movies from 25 years ago, except that it’s poorly lit, poorly edited and the actors are from the few remaining soap operas that weren’t canceled when most were a few years ago.
Oh, and there’s not much sex in it. Yes, it’s an erotic thriller without the sex.
No, that’s not fair: There is sex in it, but it’s pretty tame. One of the things the ET genre did was exploit non-romcom sex. It wasn’t all missionary with mellow music. (And, in movies, the sweetness of the sex reflects the trueness of the love. Ever notice that? The “nice couple” never gets really down-and-dirty when they’re alone.)
Did I get this from the movie or from Nickelodeon prime time?
But I guess it’s okay: If you really want to see sex, there are other ways, I’ve heard. The sex that’s here—the big scene between (“Days of our Lives”) Melissa Archer and Sean Kanan (“The Bold and the Beautiful”)—has both fully clothed quite apart from being completely unjustified in terms of observable attraction between the two. Poor Jessica Cameron supplies the other scenes, and the nudity, as she lies naked on the floor (dead) for quite some time.
The harsh lighting tends to make the actresses look fat. And everyone look old.
Another element of the erotic thriller, much like a “classic” episode of “Scooby Doo”, is the red herring. There’s one here. It exists solely for the purpose of being a red herring, though. (The trick in a good mystery is have the red herring be relevant to the story, not just something thrown in to distract the viewer, who isn’t going to be fooled.)
But that’s kind of emblematic of the whole film: The most interesting aspects of it are when it pretends to be something it’s not (but could’ve been). Except for the anti-bullying thing. That…well, that aspect of the story is really sad. I don’t mean “it makes you feel sad”. I mean, “you feel sad that anyone thought this was sufficiently convincing as a bullying scenario”. The deceased sister is tormented by a sorority. Tormented how? They give her ipecac as part of initiation.
“I threw up in front of everyone!”
No reason NOT to swallow the pill this hostile stranger is putting in my mouth, really.
Welcome to college, babe. There’s a stupid follow-up to this, but it’s really, really stupid. And even then, there’s no movie justification for the suicide. That is, you could see how someone might be driven to suicide, but we are shown nothing to back it up.
The acting was probably fine. It’s so hard to tell when the editing and writing is this random. I think the cast is pretty good looking, too, just not here. (We’re a far cry from Tweed and Shattuck.) And there were some good ideas that were toyed with, and apparently thrown out. It’s one of those movies that flaunts its low budget.
Which is why it makes a good contrast to Scream at the Devil. Far from a perfect film, it’s low budget done with extreme enthusiasm. You get the sense people cared at every step of the way. This movie feels like either they couldn’t decide what wanted, or they just gave up.
I asked the Boy if the Die of Fate had failed us, and he said no, because the film gave him a chance to analyze what makes a movie good and bad. But it’s probably the worst thing we’ve seen this year. Then again, they say the worst movies make for the best reviews, so…
It’s a rare thing when the cast looks so much better at the premier than in the movie…