Karl Bauer's Deadly Obsessions (2003) is a semi-erotic thriller in which people try to deal with their failed marriages by finding love elsewhere, whether it's in another person or money or both. Marty (Nick Capous) and Rebecca (Irene Glezos) are in a loveless marriage, both of them cheating on each other without really bothering to hide it. Marty has Monica (Michelle Verhoeven), and we can probably assume there are others. Rebecca has her best friend, Lisa (Karen Stanion), a bi-sexual participant in an equally loveless marriage who's teaching Rebecca how to be a proper lesbian while attempting to seduce Marty. Throw in a murder plot, and you've got the makings of some sexy escapist cinema. Fun for the whole family, as they say.
Only, it isn't nearly sexy enough or escapist enough or even campy enough to really succeed in any one direction. The performances aren't so over-the-top to justify the type of guilty pleasure you'd find in a telenova — everyone's very serious about what's going on, but not in a histrionic sort of way. The plot isn't big enough to be escapist. Sure, there's murder and lesbians and deception, but it's not a combination we haven't seen before and none of it's shocking. The lesbian twist is pretty apparent early in the film, so it comes as no surprise. But, the film seems to think of it as something of a trump card (albeit a preliminary one), so it spends all this time setting up a grand reveal and all the audience can say is "well, yeah, of course they are." It doesn't help that the first lesbian scene breaks the 180 degree rule maybe 15 times. That's not the type of thing that instills confidence in your audience.
Nothing the film does, plot-wise, is bold enough to get our attention. At no point does it really go for broke and risk being a big disaster. It plays close to the vest, unwilling to take a real chance. And there isn't enough talent on display (not to say the people involved don't possess that talent, it just isn't on the screen) for Deadly Obsessions to work as a middle-of-the-road thriller. Ergo, it ends up being kind of dull.
And that brings us to the sex. These characters spend a great deal of time having sex. The script has lots of sex. The film does not. What we get more often than not is a fade to black, or a pan to the window. It feels like the sex has been edited out of the film by someone other than the director, like a TV edit. Actually, the entire time I'm watching Deadly Obsessions I can't shake the feeling that what I'm watching is one of those 80's TV movies they show on Saturday afternoon when there's no college basketball on. For most of the film I actually thought that's what Bauer was going for, I thought he'd made an interesting genre choice, but the more I watched, the more I thought it couldn't be possible. Too much of it was modern, even if they did seem to be wearing clothes that had a distinct 80's look. Maybe it's the fact that the film is shot on 16mm.
One more note. The script feels like an early draft. Much of the dialogue is stilted and cliche, almost a script by numbers. There's very little subtext, and what little we do have is played so that it's impossible to miss (which kind of defeats the purpose of subtext). But more importantly, there's a long exposition scene between Marty and Lisa that just destroys any and all momentum the film had. The scene is at least 10 minutes long — maybe longer — but it feels like 45 minutes and after a while you don't even care what they're saying. You just want the scene to end. That's when my roommate decided he'd rather be doing something else.
But hey, I could be wrong. Check out Deadly Obsessions for yourself at the official homepage. You can purchase the film for $14.99 on FilmBaby.com. You can read the director's blog here.
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starring: Nick Capous, Irene Glezos, Karen Stanion, and Michelle Verhoeven
cinematography by: Karl G. Bauer
written and directed by: Karl G. Bauer
$50,000/101 min/Philadelphia, PA