Review: The Voyeurs

Director: Michael Mohan

Stars: Sydney Sweeney, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Justice Smith

Sydney Sweeney is so hot right now. Having starred in the best (by some distance) of last year’s Welcome to the Blumhouse strand (Zu Quirke’s Nocturne) and having very recently been a part of HBO’s hot-topic Hawaiian holiday miniseries The White Lotus, the Instagram favourite is finding plenty of spotlight. Now, on the heels of that summer trifle, she takes top billing in a frothy erotic thriller for Amazon Prime.

We all enjoy looking. Peeping. Peering. Movies themselves provide an intrinsically voyeuristic outlet. We can look and not be seen. The actors or subjects within don’t see us, can’t know us. We ascribe meaning and make judgments without fear of being held accountable. In it’s opening moments, The Voyeurs acknowledges and plays with this assumption. We zoom in through the window of a Montreal clothing store. There’s Sydney Sweeney as Pippa, trying on lingerie in the dressing room. The curtain’s open for us to see. To look… Before she notices and pinches it shut, staring straight down the lens before being obscured. So much for looking without fear of reprisal.

Pippa and her long-term boyfriend Thomas (Justice Smith) move into a spacious new apartment that features a wall of windows that look into a similar high-rise across the street. On their first night there, they notice that a couple across the way aren’t particularly private about their sex life. Pippa and Thomas joke about it, but they also can’t quite tear themselves away. Justifying their behaviour to one another, it’s not long before spying on their neighbours becomes a persistent hobby.

For Pippa, there seems to be a motive beyond the curious. Her relationship with Thomas is loving, but it has reached a comfortable plateau.  Spicing up their sex-life by working their neighbours’ antics into the own play, it is notable that Thomas finishes before the show unfolding before them. Things grow more complicated when, by happenstance, Pippa’s job as an optometrist brings her in direct contact with Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo); the wife across the way.

The obvious hat-tips are Hichcock’s Rear Window or De Palma’s Body Double, but Michael Mohan’s movie is happier taking its cues from the low-stakes M&S lifestyle aesthetics of Fifty Shades. It’s comfortable in this regard and, at times, even quite inventive. The method by which Pippa and Thomas add sound to their visions is delightfully convoluted, while fiddling with printer settings leads to an inspired method of communication.

The characters here are very likable, for the most part. Pippa’s addiction to watching leads her to some sorrowful places, but there’s heart and there’s longing to her, too, and Sweeney is good in the role. Smith, meanwhile, makes Thomas particularly lovable as the couple’s clownish voice of reason and conscience. Julia’s admission that she has “8,000 interests and zero skills” will ring true to many young people carving out their place in today’s world, and Liu Bordizzo does more than enough with a relatively small role. By contrast, Ben Hardy who plays her cheating husband Seb brings eye candy and intensity to his bullish British photographer. Certainly enough to engineer the interest of Pippa…

Mohan’s dialogue is smarter-than-your-average. Taking the lion’s share of it, both Sweeney and Smith shine the brightest and they help make this slick two-hour jaunt seem snappier than it is. The Voyeurs doesn’t hide it’s trashy heritage, but it does earnestly attempt to present something that provides the requisite thrills in all the right places. Considering how cheap some erotic thrillers turn out to be, this is a cut above, with a (literally) showstopping twist in it’s back-pocket. Still the genre’s ever-present glass ceiling remains comfortably in tact. The ending is deliriously dippy – and guiltily enjoyable.

Those looking to see Sweeney – who want to look and enjoy looking – will be suitably teased and titillated. And also, spicily, challenged for doing so.

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