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A young couple, optometry intern Pippa and musician Thomas (Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith), move into a beautiful loft in Montreal. The apartment comes with a perfect view into the apartment across the street, which is occupied by an exhibitionist couple (Ben Hardy and Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Pippa, especially, becomes fascinated, then obsessed with the couple, as she desires more excitement in her own life – and desires him, a successful photographer named Sebastian. After Pippa and Thomas see Sebastian cheating, her obsession leads to life-altering consequences.
The star is Sydney Sweeney, who’s best known for her breakout roles in Euphoria and The White Lotus. She’s joined by Detective Pikachu and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s
Justice Smith, Bohemian Rhapsody’s Ben Hardy, and The Society’s Natasha Liu Bordizzo. These are not necessarily names you know yet, but they’re all names you’ll get used to hearing as these young actors’ careers progress.
It’s been awhile since you watched a straight-up, old-fashioned erotic thriller, right?
The genre got huge in the late ‘80s after the success of Fatal Attraction. In the ‘90s, people couldn’t walk out of a Blockbuster without renting a movie with a title like Target for Seduction or Sins of Desire. But the erotic thriller entered a period of sharp decline around the turn of the millennium when they stopped making money in an oversaturated market.
Now, the advent of intimacy coordinators and a shift in focus to female desire are making erotic thrillers feel less exploitative than they used to, and the straight-to-streaming market is making them financially viable again. Erotic thrillers like 365 Days and Dark Desire have been hits for Netflix, and now Amazon is getting into the titillation game with The Voyeurs, an entertaining new streaming movie which, more than any other contemporary erotic thriller, is a throwback to the halcyon days of the genre. It has the sleazy, sexy spirit of 1992 with themes of social media facade construction and surveillance that are timely to 2021.
Writer-director Michael Mohan’s goal seems to be to introduce the erotic thriller genre to a new generation of viewers, as the cast is stocked with actors known for teen roles. It’s hard to adjust to seeing Sydney Sweeney and Justice Smith and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who have all mostly played teenagers, in roles typically played by actors in their 30s and 40s. But if you can suspend your disbelief about people this young living in apartments this nice, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in their performances, especially the seductive menace of Ben Hardy.
More than the performances, though, the real pleasures of The Voyeurs are the ways the technical elements of the film create the sensual elements. Mohan is a great stylist, and the film is loaded up with fun match cuts (Pippa making a “mind blown” gesture cutting to fireworks, for example), interesting sound design (rarely has undressing sounded so sensual), and beautiful production design (seriously, those apartments!).
Mohan walks a fine line of making the stakes feel serious without taking things too seriously. He knows The Voyeurs is supposed to be fun and a little cheeky, but also have some darkness and illicit danger. The film opens with a non-narrative scene where the camera, apparently taking the audience’s point of view, creeps up to the window of a boutique where Pippa is trying on lingerie in a boutique with the curtain of the fitting room slightly open. As she admires herself in the mirror, she notices us watching her and quickly pulls the curtain shut. Then Angel Olsen’s synthpop cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” starts playing and the romance novel-style title card pops up. It’s a striking scene where Mohan challenges the audience and implicates us in the deviance we’re about to see. The title “The Voyeurs” refers to Pippa and Thomas and also to us sitting on our couches watching these people let their sexual desires create mayhem in their lives.
Mohan knows exactly what he’s doing, which is making a movie exactly like the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. And as is the case with most erotic thrillers, the preposterous plot doesn’t make much sense and mostly exists to set up sexy moments and shocking twists. But the sexy moments are indeed very sexy and the twists are unpredictable but not outside of the film’s own twisted logic.
If you didn’t like erotic thrillers before, this movie won’t change your mind. But if you’ve missed them or are looking for a gateway into the genre, The Voyeurs will take you there.
The Voyeurs is a fun, sexy revival of a lost genre with a modern twist. If you like movies that make you feel a little bit dirty for enjoying them, The Voyeurs will float your boat.
This is a softcore movie with copious nudity, so make sure the kids are in bed – or maybe even out of the house – if you watch it for date night. Or maybe you might even want to take yourself on a date with this one. However you choose to watch it, just know that it’ll be awkward if anyone walks in on you.