Director: Michael Mohan
Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Justice Smith, Ben Hardy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo
Although Amazon Prime’s latest offering, The Voyeurs, is being touted as Hitchcockian and a takeoff on the 1954 Rear Window with James Stewart and Grace Kelly playing a couple, the comparison is but imagination running wild. Considered by critics and scholars as one of the very best coming from the master of murder, Rear Window, which was shot almost entirely in an apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, grips you from the very go. We watch how professional photographer Jefferies (Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg and spends the whole day watching the neighbours’ apartments through a window in his room. His girlfriend, Lisa (Kelly), visits him often, and one day he sees strange goings on in one of the flats and then begins his dilemma, anxiety and frustration of being unable to help a woman, he feels, is in distress.
In a way, The Voyeurs — directed by Michael Mohan and unfolding in Montreal — is also about peeping Toms, though Jefferies had nothing else to do but doze, read a book and watch out from his rear window. But The Voyeurs’ couple – Pippa (Sydney Sweeney — remember her in the recent The White Lotus in which she essays a spoilt brat of a rich couple out on a holiday in Hawaii?) and Thomas (Justice Smith) have their hands full, including setting up the studio apartment that they have just moved into. She works as an optometrist, and he is a musician. And they are deeply in love and excited about having their own place.
However, they get distracted even before they have had their first drink, and dangerously so, when they see another couple across the road who just about do everything with their window blinds open. An insane voyeuristic obsession gets hold of the two young people as they watch through a pair of binoculars the man, a professional photographer, Seb (Ben Hardy), and his wife, Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Pippa and Thomas just about forget each other, completely drowned as they are in their unhealthy pastime.
Much like Rear Window, there is a murder that seems to be happening in Mohan’s movie, but where he turns and twists the narrative is the manner in which this largely erotic thriller ends. Which is absolutely shocking and unanticipated. But, but a trifle too exaggerated for my comfort.
Understandably, Hitchcock’s cinema came at a time when eroticism was far more subtle and refined than it is today, and The Voyeurs may well want to match soft porn, keeping up with the present time, when everything has to be out in the open. And this includes sex – call it mad exhibitionism.
Shot with a lot of beauty – the neighbour’s apartment looks just picturesque at night – The Voyeurs has performances that are memorable. The chemistry between Sweeney and Smith is touching, although there are few slips by her, pointing perhaps to the fact that she needs to get a little more grip on herself as she traverses the starry path.
Going back to Rear Window, which is just an unforgettable experience, the climax is so damn real and believable, and the simplicity of story-telling that Hitchcock mastered with magnificent finesse is absent in Mohan’s outing, which some may find crass and brazen. Neither Lisa nor Jefferies were remotely kinky, although he plays a peeping Tom despite Lisa’s admonishments.
Pippa’s sense of freedom is strange and so too Thomas’, but he does hold her back when she begins to cross the line. However, a misplaced feeling of righteousness and devilish curiosity pushes her into a dreadful spot
Finally, Rear Window leaves us with a lot of pleasantness. Fine pieces of acting by the lead pair add to our immense pleasure. The Voyeurs is nothing like that, and there is such a large dollop of voyeurism that leaves us a bit uneasy.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author and a movie critic)