Wolfe Video // 2009 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // June 25th, 2010
In the early '90s, gay porn actor Mark (Jared Grey) mysteriously disappears after going to an ill-fated "one-last-time" job, that kind that frequently sets in motion horrific events for a protagonist. Fourteen years later, writer Michael (Matthew Montgomery) and his boyfriend unwittingly move into what looks like the apartment where Mark played his final scene. Since Michael is writing a history of gay pornography, the ambience overwhelms him -- even if he can't exactly identify it -- and it appears someone might be stalking him. At about the same time, gay porn actor Matt (Pete Scherer) decides to make an epic XXX-rated film about Mark's life and finds himself haunted by the vanished stud-for-hire.
A little Saw, a little Lynch, a little smut -- that's the recipe for Pornography: A Thriller. But rather than serving up a tasty stew, writer/director David Kittredge offers an overcooked, ultimately thin, broth.
Kittredge tosses out lots of ideas about how people and events interrelate, occasionally using a crossword puzzle as leitmotif, along with commentary suggesting that pornography is a kind of connecting tissue that helps bind the LGBT community. While the characters are no more fully formed than well-coiffed Bratz dolls, the director creates an eerie atmosphere and some engrossing moments of confusion and dread.
If only he'd given us a payoff.
People speak cryptically, discover hidden snuff-ish vids, take on other personas, have nightmares about naked men, and a couple of actors play duel roles. But it's a whole mess of clues and images without a denouement. Kittredge spends the entire film setting us up for a reveal that never happens.
As such, the film is just a series of episodes that veer between striking and pretentious. Each of the three "M"-monikered characters gets his own story, and each would make a cool short film, if each had an ending. Since they don't, Pornography: A Thriller becomes tiresome long before the ending. It becomes clear during the second story (Michael) that this isn't going anywhere, that the mystery and paranormal elements are merely hooks to justify the second half of the title. By the time we get to Matt's gay porn extravaganza -- a hard-core biopic that features the star actually laboring over the script, churning out reams of dialogue, and table readings, like you'd find in a non-multi-X production -- you start to feel like you've been had.
Instead of being thought-provoking, Pornography: A Thriller is murky. It's not half as adventurous as it might have been since it wears its "experimental" label as a badge to exempt it from logic or the demands of linear filmmaking. Even the "porn" aspects fall flat -- quite tame by the current standards of current indie queer cinema, the film is no more sexually edgy than you're average (straight) late-night cable offering.
Wolfe sent over a screener, so I can't say how the finished film will look. This is obviously a low-budget production -- though in fairness, Kittredge and Cinematographer Ivan Corona work well with their limited budget, never straining to fake this as something that's it not, going for arty rather than artificially commercial. The only extra here is a trailer that comes up when you put in the disc. This being a screener, we get no main menu at all. If the retail product features a commentary or interview with Kittredge talking about what he was going for, it would enhance the value of the disc.
Less than the sum of its parts, Pornography: A Thriller is a miss. Kittredge has a good eye, and the film is not without interest, but it's an experiment that just doesn't come together.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated