Pimped, the directorial debut of Australian filmmaker David Barker, is a slippery beast, refusing to allow its plot to be predicted by its audience. It’s a film that ideally one should just go into cold, bereft of the knowledge about what’s going to happen. However, every effort has been made to avoid huge spoilers in this review.
Ella Scott Lynch (Underbelly: Chopper, Redd Inc) plays Sarah, a tired, possibly depressed woman whose sexual libido is personified by the raven-haired Rachel (also Lynch), who convinces the reluctant Sarah to throw herself into the night scene in the hopes of picking up a man. The stars appear to be in alignment as she ends up meeting the suave and somewhat younger Lewis (Benedict Samuel, Gotham). The two hit it off and Lewis invites Sarah back to the house he shares with his rich friend, Kenneth (Robin Goldsworthy). Unbeknownst to her, Lewis and Kenneth like to ‘ghost’ women, a repulsive act which sees them both swap places during sex with unwitting women. A clear act of sexual assault, the young men’s behaviour leads to the unfortunate Sarah having to side with one of her assailants if she wants to get back home at all.
Barker ratchets up the tension from the start, as he contrasts Sarah and Rachel preparing for their night out, with the two rutting men quaffing over-expensive whiskey and playing golf in their underpants. They are everything your mother warned you about which, to be less flippant, is touched upon in Sarah’s conversations with the pipe cleaner-thin Lewis when asked to justify their behaviour. Dismissing ‘rape’ as an ugly word, Lewis and Kenneth see themselves as victims to their own libidos and it’s really Sarah who wields all the power in the situation. If a shudder ran down your spine reading that, then wait till you see it being uttered with a lecherous smile.
Lewis and Kenneth are reminiscent of Peter and Paul in Haneke’s Funny Games, who were equally overly confident in their actions and felt nothing of their victims. Funny Games came out a little over 20 years ago, and Lewis and Kenneth don’t need plot breaking meta-devices to get away with their crimes. They are young, affluent men running riot in Australia; justice has historically always been on their side. The addition of Sarah into their lives means we, the audience, get to see some retribution, even if it’s more morally grey than we’d expect from a rape-revenge thriller.
Whilst the boys are clear cut in their morals – and whilst played with aplomb by Samuel and Goldsworthy, are distinctly one-note characters – Sarah is the more human aspect of Pimped. She is our hero, but she brings with her baggage that gestates into a thirst of sex and a strong will to survive at any cost. When some late-night visitors to the house result in Sarah being called upon to lie on behalf of her assailants, she does so with a calmness and speed that is alarming. Lynch is brilliant as Sarah and her scenes with Lewis, in particular, are coloured by the understanding that you never really know what’s going on behind her eyes.
Performances aside, Barker brings a bold, glossy box-office feel to the film that raises it above the schlocky exploitation it could have been. The film is tightly structured, although with a second-act break that nearly derails the film into a bleak episode of Fawlty Towers, played for laughs more than it should have been. The intent of the scene is clear, but it just doesn’t land the way Barker possibly intended. Thankfully, he and co-writer Lou Mentor course correct quickly, leading to an epilogue that brings everything you’ve previously seen into sharp relief.
Coming out during a particularly potent time in modern sexual politics, Pimped is, whether it means to be or not, a deliciously dark and violent exploration of toxic masculinity and victim blaming.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Pimped’ screened at the 2018 Monster Fest in Australia.