Sebastian Stan is a sexy bastard. Can we all agree on that? OK, good. Now that’s out the way let’s get down to the matter at hand, which is: what is it that sexy bastards do? Well, they be sexy bad boys, for one. Much in the way that pirates will double cross you whenever they can, sexy bastards will only ever be sexy, and bastards. And many people stan, er, Stan. As the Winter Soldier in Marvel he was a dommy dom, all the way.
So Stan stans know what they want with, er, Stan. Which leaves his co-star, Daisy Edgar-Jones, an all round sweet package. Except… for those of us that have seen her kinky side in TV miniseries Normal People (2020), will know not to be fooled by those big eyes and sweet smile. She has a dark side. Which is handy, because you’d want to cast two actors of that nature in a movie that begins as a romantic drama, but then descends into something more sinister.
Without giving too much away, this movie is meant to be about the horrors of dating, or something, I guess. Maybe through the lens of Eli Roth. I read one review which described it as ‘Hostel meets Ex Machina‘, which is apt. For me, it also took some inspiration from horror comedy The Love Witch (2016), at least in terms of the ’60s Technicolor aesthetic and tone (although it’s nowhere near as inventive, but we’ll get to that).
Whatever it was trying to be, for me, it fell a little short, and felt somewhat ‘by the numbers’ storytelling, although it was Mimi Cave’s directorial debut, so I can’t be too harsh on it. I think the thing that saved it being mediocre and drifting into forgettable B-movie territory, was its leads. Stan and Edgar-Jones are clearly both stars, and for those that say Daisy isn’t yet, sure, fine. But she more than held her own opposite Sebastian, so she’s a rising star, if not a fully-fledged one. And in every scene that felt slight in terms of character development or compelling plot, Daisy really sold it and kept me engaged. That’s acting, folks!
Speaking of plot: the vague setup is, Daisy plays Noa. She’s single and failing at the dating game, getting duds, until a meet-cute in a supermarket with hunky Steve (Sebastian Stan). He’s too good to be true. Turns out, you’d be correct for thinking this. What a surprise. When he finally gets her back to his place, things take a turn for the worse (for her).
Even for those that don’t watch a lot of movies, you can see this turn of events coming a mile away. So Steve turns out to be some kind of psycho, and Noa quickly realises she has to play along and be nice, until he lets his guard down and she can make her move. Without giving too much away, that’s it. That’s the whole movie. There’s nothing much else in terms of twists or turns or weirdness or madness (as the psychedelic nature of the film’s artwork suggests).
So I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this story played out a dozen times before and I expected more… a twist or two, maybe to go to darker and weirder places than it did. In the end it did exactly what I expected it would do, which sadly wasn’t that complicated or unexpected. And so I’m left in a pickle: I’d recommend the movie to people, but not emphatically so. For me it falls into the 3/5 star category. It could easily have gone higher, had they done something unexpected.
Considering Stan went to some surprising places recently in Pam & Tommy (2022), and Edgar-Jones put herself on the map with a raw and vulnerable performance (one that included exploring kink) in Normal People (2020), I hoped for more from this film. It’s good, but it could have been great.