Sunday, November 13, 2016

Screen Gems thrillers & Obsessed (2009) review

When you are in the mood for something mindlessly entertaining, there is nothing as enjoyable as an erotic thriller. They are so generic -- you know exactly what you are going to get. Some blood, some skin, maybe some good suspense. Sometimes you'll get a great one, like Gone Girl. But most of the time you get movies like Jade (William Friedkin, 1995), Final Analysis (Phil Joanau, 1992) or Colour of Night (Richard Rush, 1994).

Screen Gems is a division of Sony Pictures, and in recent years has developed a line of thrillers aimed at the African American market. What makes these movies interesting is that they take recognisable templates from 80s and 90s hits and race-swap the characters. It is refreshing and rare to see genre films made with non-white leads where race is never brought up. These movies have all scored at the US box office, showing that they are hitting a nerve with viewers who want to see people onscreen who look like them.

If you are interested in this phenomenon, I suggest you check out Scott Mendelssohn's pieces on this new trendWhile none of these movies are great, they are (mostly) fun to watch (sometimes not for the reasons the filmmakers intended), and offer a glimpse at the kind of colour-blind casting Hollywood should do more often.

Obsessed (2009)

The inaugural release of Screen Gems' run of thrillers, this stars a pretty strong cast: Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles and Ali Larter.

Elba plays Derek Charles, a high flier at a finance firm. He's married to Sharon (Knowles), who used to be his secretary. They've had a child and have just moved into a new home. Life is looking pretty good for Derek -- until he meets the new temp, Lisa Sheridan (Larter). Lisa becomes infatuated with Derek and -- after he rejects her advances -- begins to stalk him. 

For the most of the movie's runtime, Obsessed feels like the first draft of a good movie. The plot is rote, the cast are solid, but it just needs to be screwed around with. There's a lack of originality here that grates. Every time the movie is about 'go there', it chickens out.

One of the problems is that this kind of trashy erotic thriller has been done before AND the movies you think of in that genre were all rated R. Obsessed is PG-13, and feels it. It should feel dirty and dangerous, but the movie is sanitised. 

The movie is so black and white — no pun intended — that it never becomes genuinely engaging. The good characters are completely good; the villain completely crazy and evil. Idris Elba’s character doesn’t even have sex with Lisa — unlike the erotic thrillers it is patterned after, the threat is completely external to the central couple. Traditionally, these movies are always based on a moment of moral weakness — there is never a moment like that here. They don’t even handle the dynamic of a false rape accusation. Ali Larter lurches straight into psycho mode with no build-up or real cause — she’s just a caricature. The movie expects us to know how these movies go, but does not provide a believable series of circumstances to contextualise Lisa's psychosis.  

I said at the outset that these movies ignore racial politics, but in the case of Obsessed, this is a massive blindspot. But the filmmakers don't touch on anything else -- there is no attempt to explore office relations or sexual politics or just marital discord. It's just so safe and boring. There are sections of this movie where you just wish the filmmakers will do something off book



Now you're probably wondering why I bothered watching this movie. The answer is three words: 'Beyonce cat fight'. In the last 10 minutes, Beyonce and Ali Larter go at it in the most hilariously drawn out and brutal fight imaginable.



You almost expect each fighter to come out to their own theme music ala the WWE. They plow through Elba's expensive house, and just trash the whole place. Pottery is broken, walls smashed to kindle and glass tables shattered. It is awesome. 



What makes it better is that Beyonce clearly knew this was her big moment and telegraphs it throughout the movie. Every time she has a confrontation with Larter, Beyonce gives some variation of the 'If you touch my family, I WILL KILL YOU' speech -- it's almost like she's playing for the trailer. What seems like over-acting at first is actually totally appropriate when Beyonce is throwing her rival through a wall. 

In summary, Obsessed is a pretty average thriller lifted by an absolutely bonkers finale. Check it out.

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