Director: Michael Mohan
Writer: Michael Mohan
Stars: Justice Smith, Sydney Sweeney, Ben Hardy
Synopsis: Pippa and Thomas move into their dream apartment, they notice that their windows look directly into the apartment opposite, this will set in motion a chain of events that will lead to disaster.
Michael Mohan’s The Voyeurs is the first American film I’ve seen since D.J. Caruso’s Taking Lives that has its entire story set in Montreal. Not in “New York, but it’s actually Montreal” or “Paris, but it’s actually Old Montreal,” but straight-up Montreal, and I can’t help but respect this aesthetic choice. At first, you may think that Montreal will act as a major city, but after its establishing shot, which doesn’t hide the fact that this will entice québécois viewers who’ll notice the lack of orange cones in its cinematic representation. So it’s a fictionalized portrayal of Montreal, but no matter, since most of the movie is set in an apartment. Couple Pippa (Sydney Sweeney) and Thomas) (Justice Smith) move into a new apartment together in the city, right in front of the studio/apartment of a renowned photographer (Ben Hardy), who has a rather sexually charged relationship with his wife (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). However, the photographer in question has been hooking up with multiple women in his studio, with Pippa and Thomas having front-row seats to the man’s infidelity. Pippa slowly becomes obsessed by prying into his life, which will lead her down a dark, and potentially deadly path.
Critics have compared the film as a mixture of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Brian De Palma’s Body Double. The problem, however, was that these two films are cinema classics. In contrast, The Voyeurs is one of the most ridiculous thrillers of the year and leads to one of the most anticlimactic and unsatisfying endings I’ve seen in any movie that came out this year. As it begins as a methodically composed thriller, I was on board (and the Montreal establishing shots made me go “hell yeah!”). However, the further the film strolls, the long, the less interested I became in knowing what would happen in the end, in part due to how shoddily written both main characters are. This could’ve been Justice Smith’s best performance yet. He is, admittedly, not an actor who has been impressing me very much (though he was excellent in Pokémon Detective Pikachu). Still, his character in The Voyeurs had the makings of an all-time great performance for the actor. It’s Smith’s most serious character yet, but Mohan writes him in clichéd dialogue where he only tells Pippa that what she is doing is wrong multiple times until he decides to leave her because Pippa is too far gone on her obsession. But Mohan never once defines why the characters are obsessed. Is it just because they can see the couple from their apartment window, or that Pippa has voyeuristic tendencies?
In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) becomes obsessed with the people he observes because he doesn’t have anything else to do. He is wheelchair-ridden and must find anything to kill time, but his pastime soon becomes an obsession. Likewise, in The Voyeurs, as soon as the couple is introduced, Pippa starts to get obsessed with what the photographer is doing and will immediately plunge into criminality to listen in on their conversations and become immediately involved in their lives when she befriends the photographer’s wife, who visits her at the eye clinic Pippa is working at. The further Pippa gets involved in other people’s lives, the more self-centered she becomes, as she wants to figure out exactly what’s going on. But for what reason? There’s never a moment in which Mohan demonstrates that finding out if the photographer has been unfaithful to his wife will bring Pippa (or the wife) any form of satisfaction, so why must she get involved? Of course, there was a reason for Jeffries, in Rear Window, to start getting involved in other people’s affairs: he suspected murder! But if Pippa had minded her own business, maybe none of the events that unfold in the film would’ve happened.
But this is a movie, and we do need a story to entice our viewers! That’s why, when it’s clear that The Voyeurs doesn’t have anything remotely interesting to say or will develop a character relationship we actually care about, it quite literally jumps the shark and ends in the most utterly ridiculous plot twist I’ve seen all year, but not in a good way. Instead, without delving into any plot spoilers, the film delves into incredibly egregious (and horribly exploitative) territory that left an awful taste in my mouth. You can predict what will happen in the end, but it doesn’t make it less spiteful than it is. Of course, it tries to critique the ethics of performance art and photography, but the critique really isn’t as poignant or as interesting as the director thinks it is.
As a result, The Voyeurs is a terribly uninspired and silly erotic thriller whose ridiculousness grows the further the film advances in Pippa’s voyeuristic madness. And while the idea of it, a mixture of Rear Window and Body Double, is quite enticing, its execution is quite haphazard. I will say that I immensely enjoyed Ben Hardy in the movie, but the focus isn’t on him, and, in the end, his talents (and everybody else’s) become pitifully wasted. I should’ve known this wasn’t going to be a good movie when no orange cones were found in the movie’s representation of Montreal when, in real life, they are everywhere and haunt my nightmares forever and ever…