“Nobody has private lives anymore, Tara.”
First up, I’ll state the obvious that it’s super uncomfortable watching a movie in which noted rapist James Deen plays a sexually abusive lunatic. He’s also really bad.
Having said that, this isn’t as dire as its reputation suggests. It kind of ends up working despite itself, and most of the issues can be assigned to Brett Easton Ellis’ script, which works well structurally and thematically, but is stilted and stupid sounding almost every time someone speaks.
But he’s still making an interesting point behind all the soap opera garbage dialogue and mostly shitty acting: cinema as religion is dead because the modern world has warped humanity into irony-cloaked shells with meaningless private lives. Nothing we hide matters, because hiding things has become normal. The secondary layer has become expected, so it’s not interesting.
The entire production process reflects that, especially the casting. Lindsay Lohan’s role here as an imminently desirable minx is purely ironic. At one point Deen (who used to star in porn) complains about being objectified. Knowledge of the film’s production is required to make sense of the picture, but pictures are supposed to exist in a vacuum. Transparency breaks the movie and powers it, secrets drive narrative and are meaningless.
Now, all of that is drenched in so much soap-opera nonsense, irony, and self-importance that it threatens to drown itself in portentousness – this would work so much better if Ellis wrote it with a shred of humor – but Shrader directs the hell out of it, and he makes it feels spontaneous and real despite Ellis’ best wishes.
For the budget this was shot on, it looks incredible at points, and Schrader and editor Tim Silano recall Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie in their alienating cutting of dialogue, and the sound is mixed so sparsely that everything sounds like it’s been shot in a void.
When the actors look directly at the camera, it’s an almost condescendingly-obvious statement of purpose, but it still works. There is no line separating the story and the viewer, we have nothing left to get lost in.