Judge Patrick Bromley enjoys being treated like a love object. Unless it's this film, in which case, never mind.
Some people are just made for each other.
There's an exciting movement in horror films going on these days. It's not overt—it's quieter, coming in under the radar. No, while wide audiences are shoveled disappointingly dull multiplex outings like Freddy vs. Jason or The Ring, smaller-scale gems are going largely unseen. They're imports from other countries, like Dog Soldiers or the Ginger Snaps films. They're offbeat, less popular films like May or Cabin Fever—a pair of movies that announced the emergence of two of the most exciting voices in horror to come along in years: Lucky McKee and Eli Roth, respectively. Yessir, it's a good time to be a horror fan—that is, if you know where to look.
Joining the trend and worth checking out is Robert Parigi's Love Object, new to DVD courtesy of Lions Gate. While not quite an instant classic, it certainly marks an impressive debut for the writer-director.
Facts of the Case
Love Object tells the story of Kenneth (Desmond Harrington, 3-Way), a socially and sexually repressed technical writer who's looking for love. He finds it, too, but in a most unusual place: a life-size silicone sex doll named Nikki. When a new temp typist, Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller, Soul Survivors, Get Over It!) shows up at the office, Kenneth's feelings for her begin to interfere with his relationship with Nikki—that is, until he's forced to choose between the two.
Love Object is a clear signal that its creator, Robert Parigi, is an accomplished director whose writing could use improving. He clearly knows how to control tone—the movie shifts fairly effortlessly from a pitch-black sex comedy to a psychological thriller to a gruesome horror film in the span of ninety minutes—and evokes a methodically unsettling mood. He knows how to develop a visual style to enhance the material, as well as create a disquieting sonic landscape through music and sound effects. As a director, Parigi shows a great deal of self-assurance and natural ability.
Where Parigi needs work is in the construction of his material—he's lacking as a storyteller. The apparent shortage of originality inherent in his subject (the story's basically been told all the way back to the original Bride of Frankenstein) is all but masked in the film's first two-thirds by the confidence and skill of the direction. The last half-hour, however—when the movie really shifts gears—doesn't work. It's not that the proceedings devolve into violence and gore; that doesn't bother me, and Parigi makes the carnage chillingly effective. The problem is that the violence seems to be there because Parigi didn't know where else to go.
The final few moments of Love Object find that to be especially evident, as Parigi borrows a page from Night of the Living Dead to wrap things up. Romero was able to pull it off because not only did Night of the Living Dead provide some much-needed social commentary (as all his zombie films do), but it actually fit with the tone of the whole piece. Love Object, on the other hand, seems to subscribe to the overused horror film maxim that not satisfying audience expectations is akin to leaving them "unsettled." Not so—inconclusive or cynical or defeatist endings do not a good horror movie make. There's got to be a reason for the ending, or a feeling that if this is not the logical conclusion, then it's at least the best of all possible endings. It's a lesson Parigi needs to learn before venturing further into the horror genre.
The movie would make an excellent companion piece to Lucky McKee's superior May, which deals with similar story elements and themes from the point of view of a female protagonist. What made McKee's film work, though, was its central character—not only was May a fully realized and wholly original character, but Angela Bettis's performance made her utterly believable and human. Love Object's Kenneth, on the other hand, shows no such dimension; he's a standard scary-movie creep—Norman Bates without the vulnerable likability. He's another example of the limitations of Parigi's screenplay; there's no consideration for the psychology behind the character, nor is there much interest in his behavior outside of the sexual dysfunctions. Harrington's stiff performance doesn't help matters, either, making Kenneth even more one-note than he's already been written. The characterization doesn't inspire anything in the audience—not fear, or sympathy, not even derisive laughter. Harrington makes strange seem dull.
Thankfully, Melissa Sagemiller and a couple of great character actors are on hand to pick up the slack. Sagemiller's Lisa is an appropriate ray of sunshine amid the gloom—so much so that she manages to supersede the clichéd sunniness that the part requires to actually become the film's brightest spot. Rip Torn (The Larry Sanders Show) is his usual gruff self as Kenneth's boss; ditto for Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula, Johnny Mnemonic) as Kenneth's landlord—provided you replace the word "gruff" with "bug-eyed and indescribably odd" (actually, the movie plays against expectations and casts Kier in one of the more "normal" roles). These three performances not only adhere to the tone of the film, they enhance it—the film's balance between the stylized normalcy of reality and creepy surreality is brought to life through these three actors.
The DVD presentation of Love Object is solid, save for one naggingly terrible aspect: the picture. For whatever reason, the image is very grainy and leans too far on the dark side. The washed-out colors, on the other hand, are well represented, as that's a stylistic choice and not a function of the disappointing transfer. The disc's audio, unlike its video components, is actually quite good. One has a choice between a 5.1 surround track and a standard 2.0 track; though the latter is serviceable, the 5.1 option is easily preferred—it really puts all channels to creepy use. Although a decent compilation of supporting material can be found on the disc, there's not a whole lot that's worthwhile: a few cast and crew interviews (underlining the point that Udo Kier really is an odd man); a video scrapbook; a photo gallery; and a poster gallery that showcases several choices that are far more effective than the one finally settled upon.
Two commentary tracks run the length of the film. The first features writer-director Robert Parigi speaking alone about the production history, the shoot, and some of his choices. There are several long gaps of silence, though, and many of his comments border on trite ("She's now become the doll."). The second track, with Harrington, Sagemiller, and two smaller role players each recorded separately and moderated by Parigi, is a lot more involving. The conversations are lively, and while there's always the tendency to fall into the "Look what I'm doing" or "I love this part" traps, there's enough information and personality present on the track to make it an asset to the disc.
Do your homework before seeking out Love Object. I could name a half-dozen other "new horror" movies to be seen first—any or all of the above mentioned titles would work. Then, once you're well versed enough and ready to branch out to the second-string players, check out Love Object. If director Parigi can work out a few kinks, he's going to make a real name for himself in the horror genre. Who would want to miss that?
Despite a few minor missteps, the Court believes that Robert Parigi has a bright future ahead of him, and his Love Object is allowed to remain out of its box. Just please don't touch her—she's mine. We're in love, you know.
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