The Voyeurs (2021)

I’ve been seeing a lot of praise online for the supposed return to form for erotic thrillers that’s been happening on major streaming services.  While the biggest movie franchises in the world—The Fast and the Furious, the MCU, Star Wars, etc.have completely removed sex & eroticism from the movie theater, at-home streamers like Netflix have scored minor word-of-mouth hits for hornt-up trash like 365 Days and Deadly Illusions.  I think praising this ripple-sized “wave” of straight-to-streaming erotic thrillers as some kind of return to the genre’s 1980s-90s heyday overlooks a plenty of much better, riskier examples of the recent past like Double Lover, Knife+Heart, and Stranger By the Lake.  What’s being championed instead of those modern genre gems is the straight-to-VHS softcore version of that revival, which is fine.  At the very least, Netflix’s recent, self-reported success in producing mainstream home-video erotica is inspiring their competitors to make more of the stuff to attract that bored & thirsty market while it’s viable.  And now Amazon Prime has taken a swing at the erotic thriller throwback with its in-house release The Voyeurs.  I’d argue that their movie studio wing has already done a great job of bringing erotic menace back to the multiplex in much more creative, daring titles like The Neon Demon, Suspiria and, most recently, Annette.  Still, I had a lot of fun with their goofy, salacious entry into the home-video end of the genre, with all of its lustful coveting of what Netflix was doing in private.

The Voyeurs is basically Hitchcock’s Rear Window reimagined (maybe un-imagined?) for the straight-to-video erotic thriller genre, making it the second delightfully inane Rear Window homage of the year, following The Woman in the Window.  It’s much more ludicrous & consistently fun than Joe Wright’s film, however, pushing its idiotic internal logic towards a spectacularly trashy third-act climax that would be a water-cooler discussion topic for months if it were a proper theatrical release instead of a disposable streamer.  We start with a young couple (Euphoria‘s Sydney Sweeney & Detective Pikachu‘s Justice Smith) moving into their first apartment together in Montreal.  The French-Canadian substitute for Parisian lust & romance is pronounced early & often, with Montreal being introduced through its lingerie boutiques and described as “Fuck City”.  Mostly, though, it’s as cold and isolating as any major city in the North, which leads its doe-eyed Millennial protagonists to huddle up in their gorgeous apartment.  Instead of retreating into the modern incuriosity with the physical world around them that plagues most Kids These Days, they find themselves fascinated with the constantly nude gym-body couple across the street whose living room & bedroom windows are clearly visible from their own loft.  This initial curiosity quickly snowballs into full-blown erotic obsession, with many crossed lines, a surprising number of dead bodies, and an even more surprising number of onscreen orgasms. 

It’s the third act twists that really elevate The Voyeurs above the routine tedium of straight-to-streaming thrillers that get released on a weekly basis.  Its flat cinematography and the robotic mannerisms of its cast reinforce the terrifying reality that the house style of The CW has become one of the major cinematic influences of our time, but there is one major benefit to it suffering the many ills of modern streaming #content: its sprawling 2-hour runtime.  The rising-action portion of this steamy thriller hits all the exact beats that you’d expect, from the young couple’s decision to buy baby-pervs’ first set of binoculars to their inevitable escalation of making physical contact with the neighbors they’ve been spying on as foreplay.  Once all those lustful indulgences are out of the way, it’s time to teach them (and the lustful audience indulging through their POV) a hard-earned lesson through the most ludicrous mechanism possible.  And then the film goes an extra beat to allow our horny-for-the-first-time anti-heroes a chance to take revenge.  It’s a rare instance where the unrushed, over-plotted runtime that’s become standard for most modern mainstream films is actually used to its full advantage: giving the audience exactly what we want out of the genre, then pushing it into shameless, delirious excess no one really wanted or needed out of this simple tale of erotic voyeurism.  It delivers on the sexual menace promised by its premise, then stumbles around making incredibly goofy decisions in the post-coital afterglow, something we’ve all been through before.

There are a few distinguishing details that make The Voyeurs memorably stylish in its own dopey way: its soundtrack’s dream pop cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face,” its attempts to kink-up the intimacy of routine eye exams, its protagonist’s unlikely transformation into a rooftop superhero, etc.  For the most part, though, it’s most enjoyable as a standout example of a larger industry trend: the shameful slinking-off of the mainstream erotic thriller from public movie theaters to private maturbatoriums.  I doubt any of these word-of-mouth streamers will ever hit me the same way as seeing my beloved, filthy Double Lover with a packed, in-the-flesh film festival crowd, but I guess I have to appreciate these deliriously horny novelties wherever I can find them.  I’m always pushing for movies to be simultaneously sexier & sillier, and The Voyeurs admirably tears itself in both directions.

-Brandon Ledet

3 thoughts on “The Voyeurs (2021)

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