Pimped opens with its action framed. Through the window of a yellow-lit door, we see blue-lit revellers in the room beyond, dancing to Peaches’ ‘Fuck the Pain Away’. DP Josh Flavell’s camera slowly pulls outs to reveal, on this side of the door, a tuxedoed Lewis (Benedict Samuel) telling Kenneth (Robin Goldsworthy) not to listen to “the weak little voice” inside his head, before feeding Kenneth a tray of cocaine. It is programmatic for a film in which our view of what is happening is often restricted, in which stylised nocturnal lighting conjures a noirish mood, in which characters really do have alter egos whispering into their ear about what actions they should take, and in which framing of one sort of another is definitely in store.
Lewis has a strange relationship with the super-wealthy Kenneth – living in his huge house, and furnishing him with women for sex. Together they discuss predatory sexual behaviour, and golf. We also meet Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch), all alone in her own large house across town but for Rachael (also played by Lynch), with whom she has her own strange relationship. It quickly becomes clear that Rachael is the little voice inside Sarah’s head, the Hyde to her Jekyll (or is it the other way around?), who sees “things that need to be done”, and spurs Sarah to action. Now Rachael is encouraging lonely Sarah to go and seek company, wearing a fuck-me dress, sexy underwear and no bra. As Sarah heads out on the prowl, things are falling into place.
Later that evening, Sarah is picked up in a bar by the smooth-tongued Lewis. She heads home with him, only to find that she has been lured into a trap. From here on in, Sarah’s schizophrenically conflicted drives are forced into an uneasy alliance with Lewis’ own brand of sociopathy, as they must improvise their way through a messy chain of circumstances – and dumb luck – in the hope of getting away with murder and maybe even surviving the night themselves.
David Barker’s Sydney-set feature is an assured game of rôle reversal, as complex characters play switcheroo with themselves and each other in their high-stakes walk on the wild side. Shot on old Hawk anamorphic lenses, this is a film whose visual and auditory landscapes come with a peculiar, dreamlike intensity that displaces all the narrative twists and turns to the realm of the psychological, and makes a nightmare of its noir tropes. As everybody lies, concealing who they are and what they really want, the viewer too becomes lost between competing pathologies and shifting genre boundaries. For it is hard to tell whether this is erotic thriller, rape-revenge, Coen-esque clusterfuck (Blood Simple vintage) or housewife’s forbidden fantasy (there are hints, if nothing more, that everything that happens in the film may be a reverie inspired in part by Erwin E. Castillo’s 1992 novel The Firewalkers, open in front of a drowsing Sarah in her opening scene as Rachael arrives and wakes her).
It is not often that narrative hints are concealed in a film’s closing credits, but the cast list coming at the end of Pimped sneakily muddies the waters of identity further, as actors, characters and the characters’ interrelationships (by revealed surname) are swapped once more, sending the viewer back yet again over what they have just seen. Yet ultimately the question of what is real and what is fiction is less important than the duplicity that the film explores and exposes – a division of personality between compromises settled and desires sublimated which perhaps characterises all of us. Along the way, the aptly named Lynch offers a brilliant double performance, as Sarah – or at least her imagination – travels to dark, tabu places that even her own guiding id can no longer countenance. Sly, subtle and sinuous, Pimped is a highly accomplished debut from Barker and his co-writer Lou Mentor, who, like their film, are ones to watch closely, now and in future.
Pimped was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 and will be released by FrightFest Presents in 2019.