Director: Michael Melamedoff
Cast: Richard Short, Pepper Binkley, Ella Rae Peck, Mike Doyle, Lauren Hodges, Daniel London, Laverne Cox
Brink Vision / NTSC All Region / Unrated / 1.85:1 Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 / 88 minutes
Disk Extras: Commentary w/ Director Michael Melamedoff / Trailer / Walter’s Video Pitch / Behind The Scenes Slideshow / Who Are The Exhibitionists?: 7 Character Teasers / Interview with Director Michael Melamedoff and Actor Richard Short / Link to Download The Soundtrack Included
A few weeks ago I got an email from director Michael Melamedoff concerning his new project The Exhibitionists. After checking out the trailer, I returned his email to let him know that, while the trailer looked excellent, I didn’t think it really fit in with the theme of Cinesploitation. I thought maybe it looked a little too cerebral and dramatic. We tend to dwell in the seedier, campier and more graphic basement of cinema and that’s how we like it. He decided to send over a screener anyway on the off-chance that I would write a few words about it and after seeing it, I am very glad he did. While not graphic in the physical sense, the level of real-life, emotional depravity is turned up to 11. Yes, it is a “cerebral” film that makes you think and has a message, but that is definitely not a bad thing as it doesn’t come off as preachy.
The set-up of The Exhibitionists immediately reminded me of The Big Chill (1983) in that a group of friends get together for a New Years Eve party and their relationships are what drives the narrative. The groups consists of two married couples (Walter and Regina, Gordo and Gretchen), Regina’s brother and freshly defrocked priest (George), sexy and young newcomer (Lynn) and as added entertainment, a washed-up pop star (Blithe). Walter is a documentary filmmaker who, unbeknownst to the rest of the party guest, plans on interviewing and filming the gang, (especially Father George) for his new movie on religion. As the night progresses, the interactions between everyone brings out secrets and hidden desires that will surely ruin relationships while ringing in the new year. Marital infidelities, perversions and incest raise their ugly heads and none of these people will leave this party unchanged.
Reportedly filmed in just 10 days, Mr. Melamedoff and company have created a drama exposing the salacious media, all the while doing it with its feet planted firmly in pulp and exploitation cinema. There is an interaction between two characters that sums up the entire feeling I got while watching: “It’s exploitation.” “It’s America!” There is a deadly serious tone that is at times broken up by stark, black comedy and scenes of uncompromising sleaziness. The entirety of the plot takes place in Walter and Regina’s high-rise Manhattan apartment and gives the feeling that everyone engaged in the sometimes bizarre and shocking interactions are trapped with each other. I noticed that as different people drank from the “punch” being served, they got a “Joker”-like red ring around their mouth and the bigger the ring got, the more corrupted that person became. I thought the visual was very striking and poignant.
Melamedoff is a talented, very stylish director who knew exactly what he wanted from his cast and cinematographer Robby Renfro who has worked post-producion on a number of recent horror flicks like Stakeland and Cropsey. The cast also stood out as a whole, especially Richard Short who plays “Walter”, an obsessive filmmaker who is driven to madness by disappointment and betrayal of the worst kind. It was very interesting that transgendered actress Laverne Cox was hired for the role of the worldly and cynical pop star. She may be a sadist who towers over everyone and likes to make people her dogs but when it came down to it, “Blithe” was the most grounded and “normal” member of the entire group. While the layers of plot and characterization reminded me of The Big Chill, the almost nihilistic approach to the relationships in The Exhibitionists could have just as easily come from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and that’s a good thing.
The new DVD from Brink Vision is as slick, tight and entertaining as the movie. There are lots of extras but don’t get bogged down with any of them. The 5 minute long “Who Are the Exhibitionists?” is the longest supplement and takes a scene or each character to give you an idea of who they are. The most interesting of the lot is the almost 2 minute fictional video pitch of “Walter’s”. It’s a silent montage of porn, reality TV and moody imagery. The one extra that I wish would have been a little more fleshed out is the interview with director Michael Melamedoff and film lead Richard Short which was only 3 minutes long and only scratches the surface of some interesting stuff. Melamedoff touches on the genesis of the film and we find out that Short is British… what? This might be because there is a running commentary track where he goes into greater detail. If you haven’t yet checked out this brooding, stylish neo-exploitation film, do yourself a favorite and pick it up right now.