Rebound Reviews: “Wild Things”

The most highly publicized aspect of the film is its nearly exploitative approach to sexuality. It is at once sexy and problematic in its depiction of lesbianism. The infamous threesome scene sizzles, but it also features Sam egging the girls on, indicating that their kissing (and more) is for his pleasure, not theirs.

In another scene, Kelly and Suzie fight viciously (in a pool, no less), and then embrace passionately. Unfortunately, Duquette is lurking in the bushes and taping the action (because he is supposedly investigating), thus inserting the male gaze directly into a moment that otherwise only involves the two women.

The Kelly/Suzie relationship is the most ambiguous part of the movie. It is implied, at least until the shocker at the end of the film, that both are acting under Sam’s authority, especially the lovesick and confused Kelly. Yet there is clearly an attraction between the two women, evidenced by the pool scene (neither one was aware of Duquette’s presence with the camera). Unfortunately, this attraction is always framed in relation to a male character.

Part of the issue at hand is Kelly’s character. She’s presented as a vapid, wishy-washy girl, hopelessly in love with Sam and willing to go along with anything he says. Sam actually describes her this way when professing his innocence to Det. Perez, claiming with all the guidance counselor professionalism he can muster that Kelly is a “sexually confused, angry young girl.”

Kelly is the source of a great deal of humor in the film (upon loading a “dead” body in the back of her SUV, she proclaims valley-girl style, “Mom would kill me if she knew I took the truck!”) and a great deal of its sex appeal as well. (Outside of the James Bond canon, it’d be difficult to name another film that features its heroine half-naked and soaked for such a huge portion of its running time.)

Despite its problems, the film is enjoyable in a trashy, guilty pleasure sort of way. And thankfully, the female characters actually aren’t as subordinate or stupid as they first appear. In fact, it is “simple” Suzie who masterminds her own plot in an out-of-nowhere twist that adds a welcome dimension to the narrative. It’s always nice to see a little girl power winning out in the end.

The acting is mostly excellent. Denise Richards is certainly playing to her type, though Kelly is really little more than eye candy. Neve Campbell fares better as the more-than-meets-the-eye Suzie, and plays the dual role beautifully. Bacon and Dillon are perfect as the slippery cons playing authority figures. It’s quite fun to watch accomplished performers create characters within characters, and they handle it masterfully here.

Similarly, the production values are fantastic, depicting each of the contrasting worlds (the swamp, the town, etc.) with a mix of sweeping panoramas and sweaty close-ups, giving substance to the heat that permeates the film. The aforementioned soundtrack is also fantastic, mixing late ’90s hits and Clinton’s funky score. The whole affair has the aesthetic of a Chris Isaak music video (but with more alligators).

Overall, Wild Things is a delightfully trashy, exploitative thriller. Like Basic Instinct before it, it’s sexy, stereotypical and yet somehow manages to ride the fine line between camp and quality. It deserves a place on the movie night play list, if not a permanent spot in your DVD collection.

Watch the trailer for Wild Things below: