“The Voyeurs”, by Michael Mohan, is rather trashy in its execution. It’s not cocky; it’s just powerful hip to how Amazon viewers won’t shut off their tap of libidinous horniness midway through a movie, and as such the film has a sense of primarily being created for provocative bursts – the type that come from characters doing something outrageous, the type that come from watching gorgeous people having “rumpy-pumpy,” the kind that make you roll your eyes heavily but continue to watch. Despite its flaws of intrigue and overly superficial touches, it just wants a reaction in its narrative. It usually receives one. “The Voyeurs” is not a passive experience.
Mohan’s tale begins with a forbidden fruit, the opportunity to peek into other people’s sex lives. Pippa (Sydney Sweeney) and Thomas (Justice Smith) have just moved into a stunning apartment in Montreal and are immediately across from an attractive artsy couple. As soon as the family enters the home, they notice Pippa and Thomas laughing and watching some genuine software action. On another occasion, it happens again, and the two voyeurs incorporate virtual reality to the mix in a moment that represents a high point for excitement.
The story focuses on the relationship of two neighbors, Seb and Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who were a former model. Hardy is awkwardly cheesy as a lecherous photographer whose photoshoots with other ladies lead nosy neighbors Pippa and Thomas to believe they’re witnessing cheating. (Our nosy neighbors inquire about an open relationship and then quickly squash the idea.) They suddenly discover that they’re not witnessing a passionate sex life, but rather a lie accompanying an abusive partner. Pippa is compelled by the fact that this narrative is located across the street to say something, and she makes a serious blunder as a result.
“The Voyeurs” has a vast range of feelings, starting with Sweeney’s depiction of the desire to look, live inside the projection placed on someone whose sex life is enhanced by binoculars. The story also gives her plenty of time to be amusing and mischievous, contrasting Justice Smith’s more low-key, less amused boyfriend who comes into the picture wanting to acquire an accordion. When the electricity between them is needed, it’s hot; but when they’re goofy, like when they attempt to establish an audio connection at their adjacent apartment during a costume ball, it’s even more so. When their relationship breaks down, “The Voyeurs” has trouble generating a strong emotional core because we care more about the two as actors in this tale finding their way through it than we do as characters whose first attraction begins to consume away at their own chemistry.
Mohan’s film reaches some extreme emotional depths, and conflates random events (Pippa’s job is related to vision, for example). It attempts to have fun with the fact that the characters are trapped in a type of preposterous illusion that only they are aware of. Take note of Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” which was released around the same time as Mohan’s. Listen to nudge-nudge-nudge simple exchanges like this: “I didn’t think you’d come.” “I came.” That scene takes place at an art gallery. Even the brief cuts, which look to be very on the nose, are comforting in some way, evoking images of a sliced egg oozing with droplets of yolk when an eyeball is paired with it. The film has a sense of humor about itself whether or not it appears to have complete control over the tale it’s attempting to tell its audience. Some portions are simply uninteresting here; they’re just uninteresting.
There are no major spoilers for the most exciting parts of “The Voyeurs,” which begin in the second and third acts. This is also when the tale gets to have some fun with privacy, as Sydney Sweeney’s profession as an actress who has been dealing with how we perceive her since playing a sexualized high schooler in “Euphoria”. The film begins with the camera attempting to get a look at her in a fitting room, only to be thwarted when she immediately makes eye contact; it then becomes a clearly defined meta comment on her professional career, one that affirms agency as Sweeney grows even more powerful with projects like these. (That aspect is more apparent than the movie’s muddled message about sex and privacy.) So much of “The Voyeurs” revolves around power, and who has control of the narrative. It becomes clear that at least Sweeney is in control.
Many thrillers have tried to add some flair to their third acts; however, in the second hour of “The Voyeurs,” there is none. The climax of the film feels pretty anticlimactic when compared to the first two hours; it’s as if we’re witnessing a police drama that has been extended by an entire act onto its own movie. “The Voyeurs” craves to be the most salacious, outrageous non-pornographic movie you stream this weekend, and that itself is enticing. However, while providing you with some fun page-turning thrills, Mohan also pushes limits of art, sex, and death, daring to go beneath the surface.
Now playing on Cinema HD.
Directed by: Michael Mohan
Written by: Michael Mohan
Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Justice Smith, Ben Hardy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo
Release date: September 10, 2021
Running time: 116 minutes
Country: United States