REVIEW LINKS - BOTH FILMS RELEASED TODAY, ON PRIME & HBO, RESPECTIVELY
Jesse Hassenger, Decider
The first shot of The Voyeurs zeroes in on Pippa (Sydney Sweeney), as the camera observes her in the gap of a dressing-room curtain. As she appears to become aware that she’s being watched as she’s undressing, she looks reproachfully toward the audience while pulling the curtain shut. A bit on the nose, perhaps, but in a cinematic landscape so deprived of Brian De Palma-style post-Hitchcockian winking voyeurism, maybe more movies should be aiming to stimulate other body parts besides the boring old heart or brain?
The Voyeurs isn’t just De Palma-esque; it’s a full-on erotic thriller, recalling movies like De Palma’s Body Double and Dressed to Kill, as well as less distinguished titles like 1993’s Sliver, with which it shares a fixation on urban surveillance. Pippa and Thomas (Justice Smith) are a couple who moves into a beautiful new apartment building and become fascinated with another couple, whose lives (sex and otherwise) unfold in full view across the street from them. Pippa becomes significantly more fascinated than Thomas does, though it’s hard to tell if she’s more attracted to amorous (some might say sleazy) photographer Seb (Ben Hardy) or the possibly distressed model Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Anyway, twists ensue, many of them erotic.
These types of movies have fallen out of fashion, as so many subgenres do—but it’s hard not to read their particular absence as a commentary on the utter sexlessness of so many mainstream movies (*cough* MARVEL *cough*). Despite fewer content restrictions than ever (no one will be checking IDs before you stream the decidedly R-rated Voyeurs on Amazon Prime this weekend), movie studios are cautious about heavily sexualized stories or characters. And there are some signs audiences like it this way, or at least have come to understand it as a standard: Every few months, sometimes even more often, someone goes viral on Twitter for opining how unnecessary it is for any movie to include basically any kind of sex scene. As far as anyone can tell, these tweets are rarely authored by your grandparents. They often seem to come from genuine twentysomethings, perhaps chucking sexuality out with the male gaze that has often informed them.
This possible generation gap may actually be a niche issue amplified by the Very Online, but it’s one that Michael Mohan, the writer-director of The Voyeurs, seems to be aware of nonetheless. Compared to vintage erotic thrillers, Mohan’s movie is striking for focusing on characters who read much younger than typical ‘80s or ‘90s protagonists. Justice Smith and Sydney Sweeney aren’t vastly younger than, say, Kathleen Turner in Body Heat or Melanie Griffith in Body Double, but they read that way thanks to the actors’ past work. Sweeney is known primarily for teenage or teenage-adjacent roles so far; though she often plays characters who are forward or provocative, as she did on Everything Sucks!, the short-lived ‘90s-based coming-of-age dramedy also shepherded by Mohan, she’s mostly kept pace with her real-life age. Smith has played some nominal adults in blockbusters like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Detective Pikachu, but these are exactly the kind of big-studio projects that are essentially kids’ movies with a few dark moments to placate adults. They barely have romance, let alone any hints of sex.
The movie’s characterization of Pippa and Thomas accentuates their late-Millennial, borderline-Gen-Z vibes. They come across as faintly disbelieving that they belong in a nice Montreal apartment, their romantic banter is dorky and self-deprecating, and they ask Siri about open relationships at brunch. Even their mismatched voices drive home their lack of forceful adultness: There’s a built-in hesitancy to Sweeney’s Drew Barrymore-ish lilt, while Smith’s deeper voice contrasts with his character’s sheepish attitudes (“that’s some good content,” he deadpans about seeing the neighbors across the way having sex). A distance forms between the characters because Pippa is intrigued by the watching-and-watched kink, while Thomas—who seems more squeamish about sex from the jump—blanches. (He’s technically correct about the questionable ethics of Pippa’s behavior—and still comes across as a worrying scold.)
The Voyeurs ultimately pushes further than vague questions of generational comfort with sexuality; it doesn’t really take place in anything resembling the real world, knowingly so (“It just doesn’t feel real,” Pippa says at one point late in the film). But the tension it generates between sexual curiosity and contemporary prudishness gives it some metatexual punch. Mohan and Sweeney place Pippa at the center of that tension. She appears in a concealed state of undress so many times that it almost becomes a running gag, making this the first movie in ages to actually attempt to wring suspense out of when nudity will occur. (Smith mostly stays clothed—both thematically appropriate for his character and somewhat unfair.)
This sounds lascivious, but the movie knows what it’s doing in this regard; it feels equally eager to recall the heyday of Mr. Skin and to be called “horny” on Twitter. If it feels a little like a training-wheel erotic thriller, lacking noirish overtones or the setpiece-heavy dexterity of a great thriller, maybe that’s part of its design. Instead, The Voyeurs remains hyper-fixated on the idea of watching — Pippa’s line of work is ophthalmology, enabling plenty of gnarly eyeball closeups (and the line “I know what the inside of her oculus looks like”) — to the point where the movie feels like a viewer’s guide to itself, easing an unaccustomed audience into its sexy, dangerous world. If it’s all a bit indulgent without a lot of emotional resonance to its more ghoulish twists, well, maybe that’s OK, too. Onanism doesn’t get much play in mainstream movies, either.
G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle
So that’s the setup of this tamer-than-it-should-be thriller, a slow-moving dud until a slam-bang finale that contains a couple of delicious twists. If only the whole movie had been like that.
The director is Michael Mohan, who wrote the pedestrian script and is making his feature debut after working with Sweeney on the Netflix series “Everything Sucks!” His direction is fine; Sweeney, so good in Amazon’s Blumhouse film “Nocturne,” is effective.
But one wonders how a master of truly twisted movies — say, a David Lynch or a Brian De Palma — would have approached “The Voyeurs.” One suspects they would have a bit more fun and taken us further down the moral rabbit hole. And the sex would have been better too.
Ferdosa Abdi, Screen Rant
Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith star in the saucy, silly, and extremely messed up erotic thriller The Voyeurs, which is perfect for a new generation of fans. Viewers have long been starved of truly absurd, yet sexy erotic thrillers that have an intoxicating blend of attractive people doing stupid and dangerous things for the absolute thrill of it. In The Voyeurs, writer-director Michael Mohan takes all the lessons of the truly wild erotic thrillers of the 1990s and brings them into the modern age. With a dose of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Brian De Palma’s Body Double, The Voyeurs perfectly captures all there is to love about the genre.
Malignant review - Charles Bramesco, The Guardian
In an interview with IGN, [James] Wan expressed a desire to work at a more intimate scale between blockbuster studio gigs, something in line with “the kind of films that excited me when I was much younger, when I was a teen growing up, idolizing film-makers like De Palma, Argento, and all that”. Those influences, De Palma’s twisted Sisters in particular, make themselves known in this winningly demented second-act stretch up to the acrobatic finale. (The Argento name-check boils down to the copious closeups of black-gloved hands wielding a medical award modified to serve as a dagger, a splendid and original signature weapon.) Maybe there’s something to be said for the surprise factor of such a sudden, palpable change in the film’s atmosphere. In practice, however, it feels like Wan’s being stingy with the livelier mayhem he’s evidently capable of unleashing. He can access a spectacular cinematic evil lying dormant inside him, so he ought to take a cue from his own story and let it be free before it can eat through the back of his skull.
JAMES WAN SAYS MALIGNANT DRAWS ON DE PALMA'S DRESSED TO KILL & RAISING CAIN
The Malignant trailer is full of imagery that harkens back to the work of Argento and other giallo directors. Giallo is a subgenre of horror that saw its golden age in the 1970s. These films, such as Tenebrae and Bay of Blood, are crime-thrillers full of gruesome deaths, red lighting, leather gloves, and an amateur detective who must get to the bottom of the mystery.
Wan directly references Argento’s Opera, explaining that this film “really has shades of all those ’80s and sometimes ’70s of more violent and visceral thrillers.”
Giallo is an aesthetically stunning genre, and the use of lighting and space in the Malignant trailer reveals James Wan’s respect for that period of horror history. Gabriel, the film’s villain, is shown decked out in black, the staple outfit for any giallo killer. Red light bathes every frame, and the film’s protagonist embodies the ethos of the giallo main character who is thrust into violence seemingly by chance until they realize the depth of the crimes at hand.
In defining the film himself, Wan says, “It’s horror, but it’s also a traditional thriller. It’s psychological, it’s serial killer, but it’s also potentially a monster movie.” While the trailer does reveal a giallo-inspired film, Wan also explains how this film draws on De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Raising Cain to create something “in the vein of (De Palma’s) most outrageous whodunit vision.”
This is not just a typical possession film. This is something darker and sexier than his previous films, pulling from a grittier side of horror history.
He also explains the plot of Malignant as the horror version of a certain Disney animated feature, as the story revolves around two sisters trying to figure out a series of murders. Specifically, he says, “There’s a horror version of Frozen in that there is some of that sisterly camaraderie, but with a lot of crazy shit that happens around them.”