Color, 2012, 88m.
Directed by Michael Melamedoff
Starring Richard Short, Pepper Binkley, Ella Rae Peck, Mike Doyle, Lauren Hodges, Daniel London, Laverne Cox
BrinkVision / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1
A low-budget indie traipsing in that ever-expanding gray area between art and exploitation, The Exhibitionists sounds at first like a modern spin on the old sleazy formula about someone throwing a party that turns into a sexual free-for-all. However, that's definitely not what you get here thanks to a concern more with the nuts and bolts of the human psyche, with the sexual drive functioning as a tricky cog in machinery no one quite seems to understand. It also goes to some seriously dark and odd places, which makes sense given the subject matter, and the result is definitely unlike anything you've ever seen.
Self-describing the structure of the film as based on the formal requirements of Greek tragedy, director Michael Melamedoff sets up a row of symbolic dominoes in the form of six friends gathered for a New Year's Eve party at the behest of one of their number, Walter Todd (Public Enemies' Short), a New York documentarian looking to spice up his latest project about the contradictions of modern American morality and sexuality. Everyone has their own agenda, ranging from Regina (Pinkley), who's stuck in a loveless marriage and dulling her own desires via prescriptions, to the two-timing Gordo (London) and self-conscious Gretchen (Hodges). Things get even more complicated with the arrival of Blithe Stargazer (Cox), a prognosticating faded pop star who bears witness to the increasingly destructive acts about to unfold.
Shot in evocative dusky hues and filled with a decaying sense of urban malaise, The Exhibitionists isn't really as raunchy as you might expect given the title. Yes, there's some anonymous porn footage being edited in the background of one scene and a few flashes of partial nudity, but this is really more about stripping apart the characters' personas rather than their clothes. Short obviously has the most demanding role out of the cast, undergoing an extreme social and physical change that becomes more than a bit unsettling by the third act, but everyone does a solid job with a tricky script that often feels like a Whit Stillman film hijacked by Abel Ferrara. Then there's Cox, a terrific presence who has the smallest amount of character development but the most eye-catching visual material, a kinky fantasy concoction in black leather and sparkling accessories. On top of that, the film sounds great with a propulsive electronic score that gives it the project a slick, eerie sheen.
The 2013 DVD release of The Exhibitionists from BrinkVision sports an attractive anamorphic transfer with very deep, rich blacks, which are crucial to the film's mood. Audio is presented in both 5.1 and two-channel stereo; there isn't a drastic difference between the two, though the music gets some decent rear channel separation in the former. Extras feature the original trailer, a one-minute slideshow of behind-the-scenes photos, and a three-minute interview with Melamedoff and Short at the Arizona Underground Film Festival in 2012, focusing mainly on how the film started off as a play-based script. ("It so terribly disturbed me I immediately put it away!") You also get to hear Short's natural British accent, which is a bit of a surprise after watching the film. The pretty filthy "Walter's Video Pitch" is a standalone two-minute extra featured briefly in the finished product, and last but certainly not least, there's also an audio commentary with Melamedoff, who lays out his intentions for the film including its dealing with the subjects of pornography, objectification, the division between the characters and the "fantasy" world shown on Walter's screens, and the dangers of simulating sex acts on a pistol. There's also an embedded link to the film's excellent soundtrack (for free!), but heck, you can just check it out right now by going here. If you dare...