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Review: The Voyeurs Is an Audaciously Trashy Spin on Rear Window

Michael Mohan’s preposterous fable exerts the dark pull of voyeurism itself.

The Voyeurs
Photo: Amazon Studios

Michael Mohan’s The Voyeurs pushes back hard on the trend of sex disappearing from movie screens by showing ridiculously attractive people in various states of undress and copulation. The film begins with an upwardly mobile twentysomething couple, optometrist Pippa (Sydney Sweeney) and musician Thomas (Justice Smith), moving into their swanky new downtown Montreal loft. When they see the couple in the apartment across the way having passionate sex, Thomas says, “They must know,” in response to their lack of inhibition. And even though she’s initially reluctant to look, Pippa quickly becomes obsessed with Seb (Ben Hardy) and Julia’s (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) constant displays of lovemaking.

While the film initially suggests a trashy spin on Rear Window, it harks back to the erotic thriller cycle of the 1980s and ‘90s once Pippa and Thomas discover that Seb, a photographer, is acting inappropriately with the various models he brings to his apartment during the day. As soon as Pippa feels compelled to tell Julia about Seb’s infidelity, and against Thomas’s increasing unease with the situation, that danger comes knocking in calculatingly harsh ways, with Pippa getting swept up in a psychosexual spiral of forbidden desire.

If it wasn’t already apparent by the film’s title and Pippa’s profession, Mohan’s thematic exploration of voyeurism isn’t especially subtle. Opening and closing with Angel Olsen’s cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” and conspicuously placing a poster of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up on a wall in Seb and Julia’s apartment, Mohan tends, sometimes surreally, toward the allegorical. With Pippa losing control of her sense of self, the supposed reality of the film’s world begins to intriguingly crack and slip away with her.

The Voyeurs, though, doesn’t exactly have much new to say about our predilection for peeping at others. Perhaps all too aware of cinema’s long history of exploring its relation to voyeurism, Mohan instead prefers to take us on a deliriously moralistic thrill ride, baiting us to get off on the escalating punishment that Pippa faces for her suddenly uninhibited sexual desires. The ensuing series of shocking twists and revelations, many of which are obviously foreshadowed throughout, would cheapen the whole endeavour were it not for Mohan’s fervent commitment to the lurid lunacy of the story’s machinations, eventually resulting in a didactic art gallery confrontation that takes a page right out of the Neil LaBute handbook.

“It’s like when you’re so obsessed with something,” Pippa transparently states at one point, “You forget to pick your head up and look around and go, ‘Oh wait, what am I even doing?’ But you’re too far down the rabbit hole.” It’s a fitting sentiment considering that Mohan loses sight of any sort of overarching thesis by throwing a few too many unnecessary narrative complications at the viewer in the film’s closing act. But by the time that The Voyeurs dives fully into horror movie terrain with a sequence that may leave you gasping and groaning in equal measure over its audaciously on-the-nose symbolism, it’s hard to deny that Mohan’s preposterous fable doesn’t exert the dark pull of voyeurism itself.

Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Justice Smith, Ben Hardy, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Katharine King So, Daniel Grogan, Cait Alexander, Caitlyn Sponheimer Director: Michael Mohan Screenwriter: Michael Mohan Distributor: Amazon Studios Running Time: 120 min Rating: R Year: 2021 Buy: Video

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