Going Under (US - DVD)
Gabe Powers is torn on the subject of introspective S&M and broad drama...
Peter, a married psychotherapist, and Suzanne, a professional dominatrix, have been engaged in an affair of sensual dominance and submission in an S&M dungeon where they must abide by the rules. Now, those rules are about to be broken when they agree to see each other on the outside. As Peter becomes increasingly obsessed with the troubled Suzanne, they embark on a sordid psychosexual journey into their tortured pasts through their most carnal desires.
I should probably preface this review by plainly stating I was bored by Steven Shainberg's Secretary, and though I worship the ground David Cronenberg walks on, I was also bored by Crash. Perhaps serious modern takes on S&M relationships just aren't my thing. Take these facts into account when reading my opinions on this particular motion picture release, which has quite a bit in common with Shainberg and Cronenberg's work.
Like all decent films about sexual relations, Going Under is very sensual and deliberate even in it's non-sexual scenes. It's the kind of thing that can be emotionally grating on some viewers. The word slow in an understatement, but that's okay. When the slow sensuality works it’s relaxing (oddly), and rewarding. The problem is that this film, and other films of its ilk, can sometimes feel like made for cable soft-core pornography, only not in the sexual sense, just thematically. Pornography of all kinds is just a set up for the 'money shot', and when that is a film's primary concern the plot in between becomes a bore.
Sex as an addiction or act self destruction is an interesting subject, the same as any other overindulged vice. Too much of a good thing taken to the point that it isn't enjoyable anymore, when done just for the sake of addiction is pretty horrifying. Going Under is very detached, and the sadness of the situation is hard to appreciate, though it is often played as a horror film. The actions of the professional S&M experimentation are pretty mechanical. This could be the point of the film, but I was still pretty monotonous.
Eddie Izzard has a bit about British films consisting solely of characters accidentally opening doors on each other and standing in awkward silence. That's not really what this film is about, but there are a lot of disjointed vocal exchanges and awkward silences seemingly for their own sake. It's all a little silly honestly, and I don't have much in the way of feelings for any of the film's tortured characters.
Peter's (played very well by Roger Rees) real torture is the fact that can't actually have sex with the woman of his dreams. No matter how physically close they get, it's still not love making or even emotional love, it's a game. His dominatrix does for him what he does for his patients as a psychiatrist, and they share the same professionalism. This professionalism is maddening to both of them. The whole forbidden love thing has been done about a trillion times on film, but this is an original take (at least I think it is, I can't think of another similar example). Though the characters are somewhat un-engaging, the story itself is clever enough to maintain interest.
Don't go into the film expecting pornography. If you do you'll be very disappointed, unless, of course restraint filled S&M is your thing. Dudes looking for bouncing boobs and bare, heart shaped asses will find themselves down in the dumps when they realize only the fifty-something year old men take their clothes off. Roger Rees groupies, if there is such a thing, should have a field day, but everyone else should come to the film expecting a drama, not a porno.
This is the first new release (or at least relatively new release) I've seen from exploitation masters Blue Underground. Bill Lustig's company is second only to maybe Anchor Bay and polishing 42nd street's most mangled excrement, which is why I find this transfer surprising. Overall the transfer is acceptable, even good, but under the magnified glass it has some problems. First and foremost is the noise and grain, which is most obvious during the red and green-lit club scenes. Details are occasionally fuzzy, even during brighter scenes. Black is deep, but highlights seem slightly over compensated and there is some slight edge enhancement. The occasionally dulled colour pallet may very well be a creative choice, so I'm not considering it as an error.
After watching films like Maniac and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in impressively mixed DTS ES, I'm again surprised at Blue Underground's overall apathy towards this disc. The film isn't one that requires much in the way of aggressive noise, but that never stopped the Underground before. Going Under's understated performance is well represented in this mix, which has little in the way of surround effects or even score, but is clear enough to hear a series of clothes pins ripped from the lead character's inner thigh from off screen. Dialogue is crisp, music is soothing, and the mood is properly enhanced.
First up is a commentary track with director Eric Werthman and lead actor Roger Rees. The team goes beyond the making of the film and tries to flesh out some of the character's motivations. Most of the stuff they mention is pretty obvious (I'm sure most member of the audience understood the fact that Peter and Suzanne have different ways of punishing themselves for the same reason), but some of it helped me to accept the film as more than just another mopey eroto-indie. Werthman is occasionally defensive about some of the films less successful aspects, meaning he's read a lot of his own reviews, or he's simply aware of his shortcomings. Both actor and director are surprisingly down to earth types considering the film's themes.
The interview/making of section is a little dry, but it's informative and moves quickly like most of Blue Underground's similar efforts. Actors Roger Rees and Geno Lechner give some back-story to the filming, and their past work, but nothing much not already covered in the commentary. It's not an EPK, but it isn't exactly deep either.
‘NYC Black and Blue’ is a little documentary about an alternative lifestyle get together that takes place every year in the Big Apple. The thing plays out more like a travelogue ad you'd see on your hotel room television, but curiously features more nudity than the feature. The disc ends with a DVD-ROM essay by Marta Helliesen and a trailer.
An interesting subject and two very solid lead performances make Going Under good enough film to recommend. A snail's pace and slightly overblown sense of self-importance makes it bad enough to not recommend. Take your pick. Fans of the actors and those interested in the subject matter will want to give it a go. Those that may be sick of independent films with no real aim in storytelling or plot development may want to skip it.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 26th June 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Director/Actor Commentary, Interviews,
Easter Egg: No
Director: Eric Werthman
Cast: Roger Rees, Geno Lechner
Length: 98 minutes
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