Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2009

Green with envy, dull as dishwater

'Obsessed' mines 'Fatal Attraction' territory, comes up empty

Obsessed
Screen Gems
Director: Steve Shill
Screenplay: David Loughery
Starring: Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Jerry O'Connell, Christine Lahti and Bruce McGill
Opened April 24, 2009
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 45 minutes
(out of four)

Domestic horror should be the scariest kind of all. After all, this is the kind of thing that might feasibly happen. You're married, you're successful, you're happy - until your psychopath of a secretary tries to destroy it all.

OK, I'm not saying it's likely, but it happens. And in a good movie, the threat to one's very ability to maintain a normal life would make for an unnerving danger. A good movie could make that fear resonate. Provided, of course, that the stakes don't get raised to such a degree that it teeters over into pure camp. And that the script's plot necessities don't sabotage the suspense at every turn.

Take Fatal Attraction, for example. That was a much more successful movie through its middle hour - with Glenn Close's jilted mistress lurking in the background, inching closer to the edge - than during the idiotic third act, when she kidnaps the kid and basically turns into an unstoppable zombie. Up until that point, the stakes were higher and the tension more grounded, more palpable.

The need to constantly up the ante seems to be symptomatic of a lack of confidence in the material - or in the filmmaker's own abilities to sustain dramatic momentum on its own, natural terms. It's like keeping your balance on a high-wire two-thirds of the way across, then freaking out and trying to sprint to the other side.

Why not keep it going? Why not keep the drama understated until its absolute breaking point? And when you do reach that point, why go for the most far-fetched resolution?

These are only a few of the problems in Obsessed, a half-hearted attempt at making good-looking people squirm through a flimsy plot scenario without choking on all the expository dialogue. There is only one real reason to see it, and that reason is called, "Beyonce is in it."

So it has that going for it. But she and her castmates are basically stranded by a screenplay that wouldn't know a nuance if one slapped it in the face, and direction straight out of a bland music video. It doesn't help that we're always five steps ahead of the characters, but director Steve Shill could have at least made us feel as if something were at stake.

For a film about obsession, Obsessed is too glossy for its own good. There's nothing messy or frantic about it. The characters have no rough edges. Scenes of conflict are too pristine - cut off from any sense of danger. The whole film is climate-controlled.

It's not enough that Derek (Idris Elba, so memorable as Stringer Bell in The Wire) is a successful and wealthy asset manager - he has to have the perfect wife (Beyonce Knowles), the perfect infant son and the perfect new home, too. And all that is put at risk thanks to the sexy new temp at his office. He has a largely innocent flirtation with Lisa (Ali Larter) for a few days - only "flirtation" isn't even the right word. Mostly, he's just being a nice guy. The miniskirt might be persuasive, but nothing happens. Yes, the filmmakers made sure to keep our protagonist's soul virtually spotless.

And then Lisa goes rogue, insisting that she and Derek are meant to be together and leaving a trail of broken hearts, shattered trust and mayhem in her wake. (Does this premise devolve into an awe-inspiringly ridiculous catfight at the end? I'll never tell.)

If the Lisa character weren't so easy to read, perhaps Obsessed would have something to go on. But the Fatal Attraction syndrome is fully at play. We're so accustomed to the idea of the great, memorable Villain that filmmakers often forget the subtleties of crafting a truly sinister adversary. Once you cue the ominous music and the crazy lady goes berserk, we can only sit back in our seats and quietly laugh. Or yawn.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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