David Barker's hyphenate debut Pimped reminds of Danny Boyle's feature debut Shallow Grave in that both are twisty, twisted chamber pieces revolving around bad behaviour that spins, mortally, out of control. It's sexy and sleek, shot every bit like an Adrian Lyne film obsessed with the mating rituals of the rich and beautiful. Opening in a lurid party scored to Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away," it intimates that what's to follow will be a bacchanal, unbridled in its indulgence in earthly delights. And it very nearly delivers on that. Worth noting that Pimped is just one of several of this year's films that seems invested in the conversation about women's empowerment and men's proclivities towards violence, sexual or otherwise. What's interesting about this conversation in horror is that it's a fairly common one. Of all the things it's on the vanguard of, horror has always been aware of the imbalance of sexual politics. With the topic now in the mainstream, small wonder that this genre, so often derided by even its more opportunistic creators (Danny Boyle among them, as it happens), has gained some measure of popular esteem. The more ignorant cultural critics have even been emboldened to opine that horror is not horror. Those who know, know that horror was always more likely to have these difficult midnight chats.
also reminds of Lyne's Unfaithful
, a mature film about hot sex and hot-blooded murder. Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch) is a wallflower with an alter ego, Rachel, who cajoles her into wearing that slinky thing without a bra and maybe hooking up at the bar with smarmy charmer Lewis (Benedict Samuel) for a one-nighter. Mid-flagrante
, Sarah looks out the window to see that Lewis has his own double, standing downstairs by the pool staring up at her--or maybe the answer's more mundane and Lewis has, as the title implies, sold her out to his roommate, Kenny (Robin Goldsworthy). Sarah loses it and consults with Rachel, who hands her a golf club, and then there's a late night in a forest clearing where she and Lewis dig a shallow grave. She says to Lewis that he raped her, or by his actions facilitated her rape. "Rape is such an ugly word," says Lewis. "There's a reason for that," says Sarah. Pimped
is smart as hell and written almost like
a Patrick Marber play
about sexual dysfunction and sadism. For his part, Barker's visuals are smooth, sterile, at all times fluid and gorgeous. He sets the disturbed
goings-on against this sleek backdrop for counterpoint and to provide for this ugly little exercise the veneer of respectability. For a film that's essentially about the thinness of the skin covering the beast, it's an excellent and pointed decision.
A late moment finds Sarah slowly, sensually cleaning off the silverware knives in her kitchen with a dish towel. Barker lingers there and we wonder about the times we've held sharp things in our hands and contemplated using them to hurt loved ones for flickering, incomprehensible seconds before putting them away. Pimped has something else on its mind in its final moments, too, an expansion of the premise to perhaps indict marriage as another form of sexual arrangement for profit and inclusion. In scenes of a possible domestic solution for Sarah, her id projection sits in the dress Sarah wears for her indiscretions (real or imagined), there in the next room or on the stairs to the basement, lighting a lighter to keep the pilot light burning. The beast in the jungle is never very far, and the people we take for granted are mere caretakers for thoughts and impulses they may not always be able to control. Pimped is alive and dangerous, itself a beautiful confection on its surface that has just beneath claws and razor edges. It's got something to say and trusts its audience to listen. 2018 has been a year of great directorial debuts and this is one of them.