L’Amant Double (18) ****
My Friend Dahmer (15) ***
Book Club (12A) **
The Rape of Recy Taylor (15) ***
After the restraint of last year’s sombre First World War mystery Frantz, the mercurial François Ozon lets his freak flag fly once again with L’Amant Double – the title translates as Double Lover – a headlong rush into the sort of psycho-sexual horror territory beloved by David Cronenberg (and Brian De Palma at his trashiest). Building the plot around a young woman who becomes embroiled in a bizarre relationship with twin psychiatrists, Ozon (who freely adapted the story from a Joyce Carol Oates novel) isn’t shy about evoking his influences either, doffing his cap to Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers with a gynaecologically graphic opening that playfully references the occupation of the twin siblings Jeremy Irons played in that film.
This also puts us on very intimate terms with his protagonist, Chloé (Marine Vacth), and it’s her fracturing headspace we occupy as her gynaecologist refers her to a shrink to address the psychosomatic stomach complaint that has been plaguing her since childhood. This is how she meets Paul (Jérémie Renier), whose analytical skills are so soothing and effective, it’s not long before she’s cured of her ailments and depression and entering into a romantic relationship with him.
The harmony doesn’t last long. Soon after moving into his apartment with her cat, of which he’s no fan, she discovers Paul has a twin brother, Louis (Renier again), who is also an analyst, albeit with a very different approach to therapy.
What follows is a deliciously outré erotic thriller as Chloé submits to Louis’s more sexually aggressive techniques and Ozon piles on the doubling imagery, underscoring it with dialogue exchanges about genetic dominance before wigging things out further with kaleidoscopic fantasy sequences and body horror contortions that further blur the line between what is and isn’t real in its protagonist’s world. Vacth, whom Ozon discovered in Young and Beautiful, commits to the role like a young Isabelle Huppert and Renier – for so long the Dardenne brothers’ actor of choice – is clearly relishing the chance to cut loose. A late appearance from Jacqueline Bisset ups the intrigue, but it’s the way Ozon keeps the film teetering on the brink of silliness without losing faith in the pulpy appeal of the story that makes this such a blast from its first frame to its shattering final shot.
A film dramatising the early years of cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer sensibly avoids deploying the sort of winking dramatic irony that might have turned this adaptation of John Backderf’s graphic novel memoir (detailing his own high-school friendship with Dahmer) into a crass super-villain-style origins story. Instead, writer/director Marc Meyers strips its teen-gone-wrong premise of melodrama, serving up a plausibly chilling portrait of an archetypal outsider whose nascent psychosis isn’t easily compartmentalised or explained. Zachary Davis Brown is good as the teenage Dahmer, playing him as an odd kid trying to fit in in any way he can, but struggling to reconcile his conflicted feelings about his sexuality and his middle class mother’s mental health issues with his darker obsessions, even after he finds his own group of friends at school who seem intent on looking out for him.
Casting four actresses over the age of 65 in above-the-title roles is still enough of a rarity in a mainstream American film to make Book Club an intriguing prospect, especially since it’s been designed as a showcase for Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton. Alas, rather like last year’s similarly awful Keaton vehicle Hampstead, this is yet another condescending effort that seems to think audience intelligence drops once everyone is past retirement age. Fonda and co play four life-long friends whose monthly book club sparks a renewed effort to improve their respective sex lives after Fonda’s commitment-phobic hotelier forces them to read 50 Shades of Grey. Cue mirthless bondage gags, terrible puns and the usual Viagra jokes as they each identify what’s gone wrong in their lives and endlessly explain it to each other in order to make sure the audience gets it. It’s the cinematic equivalent of patronising a pensioner by talking slowly and loudly at them. That said, Steenburgen and Bergen do a lot with substandard material, but Keaton’s ditzy routine wears pretty thin and Fonda’s got zero chemistry with Don Johnson, cast here as the man she cast aside 40 years earlier.
Examining the 1944 abduction and gang rape of a 24-year-old black woman by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama, the titular crime explored in Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor shines another damning spotlight on the appalling legacy of slavery. Yet the film itself never quite gets to grips with how to tell Taylor’s story in a way that’s simultaneously sensitive, cinematic and journalistically rigorous. Buirski’s intentions are certainly noble, but the way she mixes up rambling interviews with Taylor’s elderly relatives, historical analysis from various academics, stock footage culled from low-budget race films of the era and some horribly misjudged soundtrack choices (Max Richter mashed up with Dinah Washington) only serves to muddy a story that could have used a clearer narrative through line, especially as it attempts to tie Taylor’s story to the fledgling civil rights movement through Rosa Parks, who investigated the crime for the NAACP a decade before making her own historic stand against injustice with the Montgomery bus boycott. The film’s thesis is fascinating; it just doesn’t come across all that well. ■