The Voyeurs

THE VOYEURS (2021) is a type of movie I really don’t think I’ve seen before: an erotic thriller that feels very now. It has the familiar ingredients of a ‘90s Skinemax joint: voyeurism (of course), extremely beautiful people with enviable living situations, obsession that brings out sides of people they didn’t know were there and slowly erodes a previously strong relationship, deception, forbidden desire, kinkiness, long sexual tension building to super hot but dangerous sex, death, a ridiculous twist. And yet it doesn’t feel remotely Shannon Tweedy. You almost question whether it’s the same genre, but clearly it is.

There are obvious surface reasons for it to seem different. It’s beautifully shot in a modern digital style (director of photography Elisha Christian, COLUMBUS, THE NIGHT HOUSE), so even all the scenes happening in the dark don’t have that faux-noir feel. And there’s absolutely no sexy saxophone (score by Will Bates, LOLA VERSUS, IMPERIUM) – in fact, it uses lots of upbeat electro dance music, and the main characters have what I consider good taste so they’re often listening to Mulatu Astatke and Galt MacDermot and shit.

Also, though there’s more nudity and sex than most movies these days and they’re trying to make it look amazing, it’s not that type where there’s, like, frilly lingerie and a thousand candles lit. So even the horniness is kinda different. The intimacy coordinator is prominently credited – good job Amanda Blumenthal (Euphoria, The White Lotus, BEING THE RICARDOS).

I didn’t even think of this until now but I suppose it’s unusual that the repressed protagonist tempted into unleashing their hidden desires and falling into a dangerous situation is the woman. And I think it’s portrayed as her making some unhealthy but also relatable and forgivable choices – allowing her the same leeway they would to horny ol’ Michael Douglas, and it’s the boyfriend who does the whole “I don’t know you anymore, I’m going to go stay with my sister” routine.

But really I think the main thing that feels new about it is that, though it slowly builds some real tension and things get ugly, it just doesn’t have that dour tone I associate with the genre. It’s fun, there are laughs. Not like it’s comedic, it’s mostly just that the lead couple are funny people, they have their ways of joking around with each other, and they don’t know, or later don’t want to admit, the heavy situation they’re getting into, so they don’t take it seriously. They make fun of it.

Okay, here’s the situation. My parents went away for a week’s vacation. Pippa (Sydney Sweeney, SPIDERS 3D) and Thomas (Justice Smith, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM) are a young successful couple just moving into their dream apartment in Montreal. It really is amazing, but its most prominent feature is its huge windows facing another building, and the very first time they check out the view they see their neighbors, played by Ben Hardy (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, ONLY THE BRAVE, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, 6 UNDERGROUND) and Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Snow Vase from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY), going at it. They get kind of morbidly engrossed and laugh about it, rationalizing that they must be exhibitionists to that in front of all those windows. But Pippa feels bad so they stop watching.

Then they keep noticing them over there and it’s hard to look away, so it becomes a little hobby to speculate about their lives. They decide to call them Brent and Margo. “Brent” is definitely a photographer, has lights set up in the apartment, and they see him having sex with one of his models. They debate whether it’s cheating or an open relationship or what. Even start telling their friends about them, like they’re soap opera characters.

 There’s a great joke set up in the beginning when Pippa says that she was too uptight to enjoy her youth, and now that she’s done with her education and working as an optometrist she wants some time to “make bad decisions.” She means to be wild and spontaneous and stay out late and get drunk but Thomas, a musician who works from home recording jingles, says (maybe jokingly) that he’s been feeling the same way, he was thinking maybe he should start playing accordion.

So one day she’s walking past an antique store and what should be in the window but a beautiful old accordion. She gets a big smile on her face like yeah, I should do it, this will make him laugh. But it turns out she wasn’t looking at the accordion. She buys the pair of binoculars next to it. After her initial discomfort with spying, Pippa quickly becomes consumed by it.

Of course there’s that REAR WINDOW/BEDROOM WINDOW aspect of the voyeurism thrillers, you gotta see something terrible happen and wonder if you should/can intervene, even though it would reveal you were watching. Even this part gets to be a good time in a really funny scene where they notice “Brent” is choking but “Margo” is in the other room working out and keeps not noticing because she has headphones on. The darkness takes its time slowly creeping up on you.

So there’s a point in the movie when I felt like oh shit, I didn’t even notice how tight these screws were getting, now my stomach is getting crushed and I don’t know how long I can take it. It’s after “Margo” happens to come into Pippa’s office to buy new glasses. Turns out her real name is Julia. And she’s really cool. (Ethics require I disclose that Bordizzo is my space crush – I love her as the Mandalorian padawan Sabine Wren on Ahsoka, and it turns out it’s not just the purple hair and the flying motorcycle.)

This is a cleverly directed movie. It opens with a shot looking across a street, into a store window, where it can see through a tiny gap in the curtain of a dressing booth, where Pippa is trying something on, and you almost catch an inappropriate glimpse of her until she turns and realizes it and pulls the curtain closed. Then the credits play over extreme closeups of eyes. Sometimes it’s a little gross (I hate looking at those veins), and you’re so aware of their vulnerability when you’re right up in them. But mostly they look beautiful, these delicate floating puffs of blue and brown. They begin to look like flowers, or paintings.

It could’ve just been “this is called THE VOYEURS so there’s eyes,” but it turns out it’s what Pippa sees every day at work. And I’m gonna guess this is the first time a movie ever made an eye exam seem hot. These two ridiculously attractive women, one who has been secretly watching the other one from afar, and now they’re not only face-to-face for the first time, but sitting unusually close, staring directly into each other’s eyes. And we’re very aware of it because we’re up close on their eyes, or on their lips, hearing each time they let out a little gasp of breath, nervous of each others’ presence.

The sexual tension is off the charts, and then they hit it off so well they become friends and later go to a spa together. Literally steamy. But there’s the other tension that if Pippa ever had an opening to pull off an “oh hey, I recognize you, we’re neighbors” then that has definitely closed. Here Julia’s telling her about her photographer husband Seb like she doesn’t know, and Pippa seems on the verge of blurting out “we live across from you, I saw your husband hit you and call you the c-word once, you were accusing him of cheating and he made you apologize, but you were right, we see him fucking his models all the time, you gotta leave this fucking guy.” I happened to pause the movie while it was getting almost unbearably uncomfortable, and was surprised to realize it was only halfway over. Not because it felt long, but because I really didn’t know how much further this could go.

Things turn so ugly that Thomas leaves Pippa over it. Left to her own devices you bet your ass she indulges all her worst impulses! I really liked this part where (we’re getting pretty spoilery here) everything has gone south and Pippa has seen Seb be a total piece of shit for months but also she’s been turned on by some of what she’s seen. And she sees him walk from his apartment to a little bar on the block, so she goes in there. And soon enough she’s going to his apartment with him to take photos, knowing his exact routine to get his models to have sex with him. The reason I love this is that I was laughing at what bad decisions she was making before I remembered that scene at the beginning where she and Thomas jokingly made a toast “to bad decisions.” I guess she called it!

It was pretty late in the movie that I thought “oh yeah, this is a little Brian DePalma.” Because it’s not all that DePalma-esque in its style, it’s mostly just the voyeurism and the obsession, and that it feels more artful than sleazy, but not ashamed to be sleazy. Maybe even aspiring to it. And another thing that reminded me of DePalma is that just like FEMME FATALE it has a twist that just seems so stupid at first that I thought for a minute the movie had committed suicide. But I kept watching (you know how it is, you can’t look away – ask Pippa) and it won me over, in this case with the additional crazy places it was willing to go.

THE VOYEURS is written and directed by Michael Mohan, the same guy who did IMMACULATE with Sweeney, who he’d also worked with on a Netflix show called Everything Sucks!. This is his third movie, his previous ones being about a decade earlier – the indie comedies ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS in 2010 and SAVE THE DATE in 2012.

I think I’ve been converted to a Sweeney fan. When I saw her in MADAME WEB I just knew her from the trailer for ANYONE BUT YOU and hearing her name all the time. I haven’t seen Euphoria and didn’t remember her from THE WARD, THE BLING RING, THE MARTIAL ARTS KID, or ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD, and only vaguely from the one episode of White Lotus I had seen. So I didn’t know if people genuinely liked her acting, or just her aggressively hubba-hubba physical characteristics, or some cryptic thing that only people younger than me understand. But between this and IMMACULATE I think she’s really good and unique. She sometimes has this lack of enunciation and almost Valley Girl lilt (though she’s from Spokane, Washington) that suggests an airhead stereotype, but then she can be witty and project an intelligence you might’ve missed at first, so she’s good at these characters who are underestimated or overlooked. Also her natural goofiness can add a layer of dork to disarm her overwhelming Denise Richards qualities, not that there would be anything wrong with arming them. In this one she keeps them safely stored and locked for a while and then suddenly whips them out. Be nice until it’s time to stop being nice.

And all of those things keep you occupied so that when she gets to a really raw emotional place it can blindside you. Oh shit, I didn’t notice her headed there, but here she is. I think she’s good. I hope we get more from the Sweeney-Mohan team.


P.S. This also reminded me of a another recent movie, WATCHER. Much more serious tone, not erotic, more horror, but another really well done modern movie about people’s windows facing each other.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2024 at 7:12 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “The Voyeurs”

  1. Having spent time in the adult entertainment industry as a youth attempting to pay rent, seeing a intimacy coordinator credit (with prominent crediting in their contract, no less!) is always going to get an chuckle/eye roll from me

    (back in the unenlightened days, if a director was above and/or too puritanical to — y’know — direct a sex scene, and occasionally be reduced to asking an actor “are you okay?”, they would get one of those sleazoid porn people to come in and do it, taking no credit at all. Some sleazoids even dovetailed this into doing *gasp* straight features. Thank god there’s now trained professionals with bona fide collegiate intimacy training to deal with such things. The director can now hide in video village without embarrassing themselves. And the set is safe from any of those people sullying it.)

  2. I had to stop reading the review when I got to spoilers but this sounds very up my alley I miss the old DePalma style erotic thrillers that were unapologetically horny or tawdry but also feature some dope filmastim and made with real craft. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

  3. Jojo I’d say there’s a difference between doing a porn where people are expecting to get railed…and even then there are issues with people being taken advanntage of…and actors doing a regular movie. I kind of see the point an intimacy coordinator might seem weird and why can’t the director do it, but those people are also advocates for the actors and you can go back and read tons of horror stories of actors gettng roped into shit they didn’t agree to do in the first place. And shit directors don’t generally choreograph their own fight scenes, so should sex shit be any different?

  4. And shit directors don’t generally choreograph their own fight scenes, so should sex shit be any different?

    INCREDIBLY strange analogy
    (I would say the only similarity between two people attempting to kill each other with fists, clubs, knifes, etc. and two people involved in heavy petting is that both involve two people)

    I don’t know when the position was invented, but I’ll take a stab at saying early 2017, which is about a month after Maria Schneider expressed mixed emotions about Last Tango 45 years earlier. After which, I’m sure every producer suddenly found it imperative, lest such accusations be leveled at them. In that, it’s less about any sort of choreography (as an aside: what the hell kind of sex scenes are you watching? You don’t need Bob Fosse for “put your hand down their pants”) and more about ‘ol fashioned CYA. In that, if you have credentialed someone with a chipper demeanor assuring the actors “Relax! It’s fun! It’s play!” then sincerely inquiring “you okay? Should we stop? See? It’s just play” they couldn’t possibly turn around and call the experience traumatic. You hired an intimacy coordinator for crying out loud! Did you not see the credit?

    I mean, if the the actors are happier, great. I’m sure some find it annoying, but then again, some still want you to slap them so they can cry on cue. And I’m sure ‘intimacy coordinator’ sounds better to a judge/the public than ‘adult film director’ should the production get dragged into court. I was merely rolling my eyes at the cynicism of it all.

  5. Best De Palma films not directed by De Palma? MUTE WITNESS for sure. I’d argue A SIMPLE FAVOR. And I love François Ozon’s L’AMANT DOUBLE, where Jérémie Renier from Brotherhood of the Wolf getting pegged isn’t even the most outrageous scene.

  6. deepfriednoir, its not an erotic thriller but I think GRAND PIANO has great De Palma vibes.

  7. Jojo why don’t you go read about all the actor horror stories involving sex and nudity in movies. You working as a low level guy on some porn shit isn’t the same. If you’re gonna laugh about the idea of a fight choreographer vs an intimacy choreographer is a silly idea, I think it’s way sillier to compare actors to two porn actors fucking in the ass. Do you think Maria Schneider was the only story? Go check out what else was coming out around that time.

    Intimacy coordinators are not JUST telling actors to stick their hands down their pants, there’s a lot more to do with it then that…they are also actor advocates as well as director advocates. I’ve seen em in action, I don’t know that every single movie needs one but I’ve seen actors grateful for them. I mean, really what’s the difference between a fight choreographer and an intimacy choreographer? WHy not just have the director say “kick the guy in the face” and just let them go at it? If your answer is “safety” I’d go deeper than that cause you know I’ve already got the response to that one.

    Now past that, I really miss that time where everyone was making Hitchcockian thrillers. Mute Witness was a really good one. Argento tried to do it but I never felt his style. A lot of generic 90s movies went for it but a lot of em aren’t that great. I really liked What Lies Beneath.

  8. Jojo why don’t you go read about all the actor horror stories involving sex and nudity in movies. You working as a low level guy on some porn shit isn’t the same.

    The most relaxed, fun, and supportive film set I’ve ever been on (and I’ve been on a few. I just left one) — with the happiest crew and talent — ‘straight’ or otherwise was a porn set. Moreover, a BDSM porn set. Where pain, sadism, torture, and degradation didn’t just occur, it was the entire raison d’être. The reason? The director created and nurtured that environment. They did their job. Period.

    I didn’t read the rest of your post, I’m sure you thought you made some excellent points.

  9. Intimacy Coordinators aren’t directors? They’re not like a second unit director that comes in and handles the sex scenes. Their role is to basically make sure someone is on set to make sure that the actors are being looked after when they’re in vulnerable positions, not being pressured into going further then they’re comfortable with, making sure there are no last minute changes to the intimate choreography that the actors then feel pressured into doing cause they’re allready shooting etc. Because we have like…. decades of evidence that that isn’t always the case. Young actresses pressured into going further then they thought, lied to about how much nudity etc was being used.

    Like it’s great that you were on a set where the director nurtured a safe environment, in a perfect world you wouldn’t need intimacy coordinators, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where actors regularly get exploited and made to feel vulenrable and shit by directors and movie studios pushing for more then their comfortable with.

    It’s honestly really weird that you’d think the role of basically an on set advocate for actors safety is bad?

  10. It’s extremely simple to understand why actors would want someone to help make filming sex scenes more comfortable. And I mentioned the prominent credit because it was deserved.

  11. We live in a world where actors regularly get exploited and made to feel vulenrable and shit by directors and movie studios pushing for more then their comfortable with

    We live in a world where actors shoot and kill camera people, and absolutely no one involved wants to accept any responsibility. It’s a shit industry and the more consultants and coordinators they hire just equates to more fodder to be thrown under the bus (not for nothing, these coordinators are hired and paid by the production, do you think they’re actually there to prevent actors performing as requested? They’d have a very brief career. If it comes down to it, they’re there to push in a friendlier way).

    I would like to live in a world where if someone claims they had a terrible experience at their workplace, or is –y’know — shot and killed, the person responsible for the workplace says “That’s my fault, I was responsible for this workplace and I fucked up”. But obviously this is just a dream of an old crazy guy.

    Boy, certainly not what I thought I’d be discussing today…

  12. Gotta have how Jojo keeps comparing actors to a fucking porno, you saeem like a real dumb cunt.

    Hey stupid, people are actually being convicted for that shooting, real smart comparison porn-boy.

  13. Wait I gotta come back because I didn’t read his (this is definitely a male) idiotic last post. Yeah Jojo, we all know how big corporate employers are so quick to take the blame and say they fucked up! There’s definitely a very long history of that.

    No wonder you have such ideals, you live in a fantasy fucking land.

  14. Jojo oughta look up the Girlsdoporn case and let us know about the wonderful porn ethics. And here’s an atrticle listing a bunchof actresses who all claim to be raped or assaulted by one single actor (I also got connections in that world and they say this was an open secret). Didn’t look at them all but looks like a large number were on porn sets. Maybe they oughta hire an anti-rape coordinator.


  15. Oh dear, triple posts. Anyway…

    Whatever you said is an infallible argument and absolutely correct. I find myself humbled in the presence of you rightness, and will examine my many wrongs in your example


    You seem fucking crazy (I may have already known this, but forgot. If so, I apologize and will make a note this time), so here’s where I get off.

    Pick whichever gives you the most contentedness.

  16. Awww, you’re so aborable!

  17. Ha ha…adorable. There’s a double for ya!

  18. Jojo probably doesn’t believe in forum moderators either. “They just take the hit for the bigger guys” is…well, kinda dumb. How far are you gonna take this Riggs, all the way to the mayor?

  19. Coincidently, about an hour ago I was chatting with my co-worker of Palestinian descent who was lamenting their life seeming like an endless series of awkward and/or terrible interactions for the past few months. I tried to get them to look on the bright side by suggesting that many of the interactions were supportive, instead of facing vitriol at every turn.

    “I guess that’s true. Although, I would feel better if the majority of the supporters didn’t seem like such… complete assholes”

    I guess sometimes you can’t pick your friends.

    No idea why it made think of this.

  20. Apparently “coincidentally” has as meaning to Jojo as 40 year old examples that have nothing to do with the talked about subject, which is nothing at all.

  21. If anybody has seen the movie THE VOYEURS let me know what you thought

  22. THE VOYEURS? Never heard of it. Is there a review or something you could point me to?

  23. The only thing that made me laugh more than MM’s comment is Vern’s comment

    And the only thing that made me laugh more than Vern’s comment is the old “I’m done with this conversation …. see you in about four hours” trick

  24. Name calling, blanket shaming, AND spelling errors! I’m surprised it’s taken this long as I’ve made several.
    I guess sometimes you have to see the bottom as a reminder.

    [i]And the only thing that made me laugh more than Vern’s comment is the old “I’m done with this conversation …. see you in about four hours” trick[/i]

    Yeah, I’m sorry. Once she said that, it was like “I can let that burn a hole in my brain, or I can just let it out”, so I chose the latter. Not a high point, but now that I’ve apologized I can move on.

    (btw, I also apologize for taking troll bait. As mentioned, I remembered too late. I know Vern doesn’t like to mod, but perhaps in this instance a clean slate would be prudent)

  25. Great… I forgot the site uses regular html, thus setting myself up for another scathing last word.

  26. From my vantage point it looked like you were the troll, so be mindful of that if it’s something that matters to you. But thanks for cooling down, I appreciate the peacemaking.

  27. From my vantage point it looked like you were the troll, so be mindful of that if it’s something that matters to you. But thanks for cooling down, I appreciate the peacemaking.

    Doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have kept it going.
    As I said, I was only scanning the one person’s posts (wasn’t real hard to get the gist that they were less than — uh — intelligent discourse), and didn’t see until WAY afterwards (like after I made my last post) that slurs started to get thrown around, and I was super-duper wrong to keep engaging after that noise. That’s entirely on me, and I’m very, very sorry.

  28. grimgrinningchris

    April 21st, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    The point, JoJo that as so many others, including Vern, have pointed out is that if there are stunt coordinators, fight coordinators and choreographers, second unit directors, vehicle coordinators etc… how can you possibly justify saying it is silly to have specialty coordinators for sex scenes. You sound dumb. Unless you can come up with a real rebuke to that other than “porn sets are safe and respective” (which I can tell you for a fact may happen, but is NOT the norm).

    That said, Vern I watched this today on the basis of this review and thought it was fantastic. DePalma sleaze (minus the onsession with color) mixed with Esterhaz sleaze (minus the obsessions with blatant misogyny and homophobia) but with unexpected twists and REAL characters and not caricatures or archetypes or ciphers… and with real filmatastic skill and solid acting all around. To the point that I started a FB chat group with a bunch of movie-savvy friends to recommend it to them and talk about it.

  29. If you don’t mind let’s agree to disagree with JoJo on the intimacy coordinator thing. I think we’ve argued that one enough. But I’m glad you liked it, that’s a good observation that it’s both DePalma and Esterhaz. Also I learned from Mohan on Twitter after he saw this review that he owns the original self-published edition of Seagalogy and bought it for his friends so let’s assume that was somehow also a huge influence.

  30. grimgrinningchris

    April 22nd, 2024 at 5:22 pm

    That’s rad, Vern!

    Yeah, I’ve got it put into at least 10 friends queues from my recommendations so far… we’ll see what the others think!

  31. grimgrinningchris

    April 22nd, 2024 at 8:33 pm

    Also, I wonder if naming dude Sebastian (Seb) was a reference to Sebastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions/Dangerous Liasons etc… I bet it was.

  32. Vern, I’m curious why you didn’t get on board with White Lotus; I’m guessing that watching service people get tortured by rich shitheads wasn’t something you cared to put yourself through. Well, I do think the series is squarely on the side of the have-nots and I think it’s a cathartic watch if you ever work up the courage. And Syd is gut-bustingly funny in it. She’s also great in REALITY, a film that I’m not sure really works on the whole but is worth watching for her performance. I dug THE VOYEURS as well but I don’t honestly think it’s one of her better performances.

  33. Oh, I have nothing against White Lotus, I just can’t keep up with all the TV shows out there. I happened to watch the first episode (as it aired on actual television!) while with family in Knoxville. I enjoyed it and I like many of the things Mike White has written so I believe the hype that it’s good, I just didn’t find time to continue.

  34. Well, I can definitely relate to that. From what I’ve seen Deadwood is in the top 5 shows ever made and I have been crawling through that for the last decade or so…

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