One of the most unexpected genre revivals I’ve noticed recently is the return of the 90s style erotic thriller. From major releases like 50 Shades of Grey to trashier fare like The Boy Next Door, there seems to be a veritable resurgence of erotic thriller media. This might be a little disheartening to defenders of good taste & decency, but for cinematic trash dwellers like myself, it’s a godsend. Bring on the expensive-looking echoes of crap that used to play at 2am on Showtime & Cinemax, I say. Bring it on, ya garbage peddlers.
It’s with that attitude that I welcome, without a safe word even, the arrival of My Mistress to Netflix’s Recently Added stockpile. An Australian film that grapples with questions about grief, maternal love, and the therapeutic powers of BDSM play, My Mistress doesn’t quite match the campy heights of fare like The Boy Next Door, but it also doesn’t try to. Although its story about a dominatrix who becomes involved with her teenage neighbor sounds adventurous, the film mostly plays it safe. It’s at heart a pleasant, but low key melodrama about two people who’ve been badly hurt & find solace in each other’s company. This kind of melancholy ambition doesn’t do much for the film’s erotic thriller appeal, admittedly. If it were to be a true addition to the genre one of the two love birds would have to flip out and start threatening to murder the other, but that’s just not the kind of story told here.
That’s not to say that there aren’t trashy elements at play. My Mistress may be hinged on the devastating grief suffered by two lonely souls, but it knows exactly how tawdry the erotic elements of its BDSM subject are. While the movie never gets overly kinky outside a couple whippings, there’s enough leather bullet bras & doggy costumes to give the whole thing a campy undertone. Watching a teen boy try to seduce a grown woman by smoking cigarettes and playing tough with lines like “I’m bad. Really bad. Evil sometimes,” is the kind of playfulness the movie tries to get away with while still dealing full-on with the more tragic plot developments. There’s also some uncomfortable, Oedipal vibes in the contrast between the two central mother-son relationships that the film is smart not to push too hard, but it still adds an extra layer of tawdriness to the affair.
My Mistress is not likely to be a movie that’s going to change anyone’s life. At best, it might help you fill up an afternoon. Its worst fault might be that it somewhat plays into the typical BDSM Folks Just Need to Meet Someone Sweet to Lower Their Defenses triteness you usually encounter in these kinds of films, but that only adds to its trashy charms in some ways. It’s a pleasant movie that finds a way to have it both ways, playing with titillating 90s Skinemax erotica and exploring the sad nuance of romance & grief. I liked the balance it struck, even if it didn’t push its worst impulses into deliciously over-the-top JLo territory.