4 November 2001 | petershelleyau
an audition for their lives
This thriller by director Charles Davis is notable more for what it doesn't show, rather than for what it does. There is often a cinematic sadism in the demonstration of the work of a serial killer, which blurs the line between drama and exploitation, in a similar argument for cinematic sexual activity being integral or gratuitous. One could accuse Davis of sexual exploitation of the women victims of the serial killer here, since he films them performing a striptease and it appears to be the sight of their exposed breasts that sets off his homicide, but the actual killings are not graphic. This may ironically frustrate those who yearn to see thrillers with violent acts, but it says something positive, in my view at least, about Davis his skill as a filmmaker. The plot uses the idea of Peeping Tom where the killer wants his victims to see their own deaths, though his method involves asphyxiation and strangling where the person no longer has a clear view of the video monitor. Hence the killer maintains his own library of snuff for a private gratification, much like the way James Spada used the video confessions he obtained from women in Sex Lies and Videotape. As the serial killer it's hard to know at first how to read Christopher Atkins. Is he presenting an accurate portrayal of psychological trauma, since he is haunted and presumably motivated by dreams of his mother, or is Atkin's little boy shyness simply the demonstration of an actor's incompetence? The relevation of the childhood tragedy is delivered in a memory flashback as told to his next door neighbour who brings potential romance into the equation, and even though the mind is a complex organ, there isn't much psychological logic to the events that would create an interest in this activity as a future profession. The screenplay gives Atkins such a small social circle that it would seem that the police should be able to find him in the same day, but their blundering progress is underlined by the 2 detectives delivering perfunctuary dialogue. There is a long delayed pay off over mixed tapes and a character suddenly and explicably expressing a sense of humour. But one of the victims inadvertently scores a laugh - when Atkins leaves the camera for his Jekyll to Hyde transformation, she says "The least you could do is yell cut". Davis does well by Sally Champlin as the neighbour's agent, and Michael E Bauer as Atkin's video salesman, who sounds like he studied under Dennis Franz. However Davis undermines Vali Ashton as the neighbour, with a soapy boorish boyfriend, and an unflatteringly angled vertical sex scene, which emphasises the age difference between the two parties. In spite of making a film about a killer of women, it's actually hard to pin the mysogyny label on Davis, because of how beautiful he makes the victims look, that is when they are still alive.