The Exhibitionists (2012)
Director: Michael Melamedoff
Writers: Michael Edison Hayden
Starring: Richard Short, Pepper Binkley, and Ella Rae Peck

The Plot: The Exhibitionists tells the story of one very decadent New Year’s Eve party. Hosted by Walter Todd (played by Richard Short), a filmmaker with a penchant for bizarre sexual obsessions, his party attracts a small crew, mostly artists, who range in popularity and intentions. As the night progresses, it seems that Walter intends to create a film focusing on his party guests. This group is made up of individuals who all hide their deepest desires from the world, and Walter intends to explore these taboos. His “cast” is an eclectic group, and as their mental stability is threatened, their secrets are very likely to be revealed to the world. Some within the group are more guarded than others, and as Walter presses them, the night will bring a very certain amount of danger.

The Review
All I can honestly say I knew about The Exhibitionists before watching was that, in some fashion, it supposedly dealt with pornography, sexual relationships, spirituality, and the repressed mental state of most modern adults. These are actually issues that I am quite intrigued by. Particularly, when you look at films like Love Exposure, these issues can be so wholly tied together that their relationship is impossible to ignore. The Exhibitionists, while still conquering many of these issues, turns out to be something far different than I could have expected. While it does deal heavily with these issues, it is a movie that is far more ambitious than I could have expected. A surprising venture into sexual deviancy, The Exhibitionists is a strange button-pusher that shows a great deal of wit and talent hiding behind the scenes.

Although I don’t regularly review a great number of independent films on Varied Celluloid, I have nothing against them. I cover them monthly for Rogue Cinema, and I am well versed in the pitfalls and excesses that come with American microbudget cinema. Unfortunately, it is often the case that independent films lack actual technical merit. Acting is always a big detriment within the independent film scene, primarily because so many of the movies are incapable of getting a decent cast together. Even in the better pieces of work, viewers will find several cast members who nearly bring down the entire production. Yet, in the case of The Exhibitionists, the film obviously features a higher grade of actors. Sitting just below the world of multiplex-targeted movies and right above the better indie productions out there, the cast here do an amazing job. While some roles are obviously stronger than others, there are no anchors that end up dragging the cast down. Everything is handled in a way that gives the production polish and esteem.

Although The Exhibitionists is a genuine piece of independent cinema, the filmmakers do a solid job in hiding their budgetary restraints. This is always an important aspect when it comes to gaining an audience, and this group manages to do just that. Shooting the film in one location, a city apartment with several rooms, the few sets in the movie appear to be fairly sparse, but this can easily be forgiven because it rings of some truth. The sets look stylish and remarkably sterile, but they aren’t so unusual that they defy reality or look cheap. During a few “testimonial” sequences within the movie, we are introduced to a very neat looking set that is decked out in the most blatantly obvious “pretentious film-studies student” fashion as can be believed. Yet, with a few filters and some quality color correction performed on the movie – it looks absolutely fantastic and still gritty enough to be believable. Along with the beautiful look is a very solid original soundtrack. Despite a different “style” and “look” for the film, the soundtrack is pure eighties nostalgia. A synth-heavy score that gives visions that are very different from what the movie actually provides, I found the dichotomy really engaging. It’s just another bit of icing on the cake when it comes to The Exhibitionists.

After all of the pieces fall together and everything is somewhat established, the movie becomes far more obtuse in terms of the narrative. Things meander around a bit, but generally the movie seems to be about the placement of these characters together and the reactions they get from one another. The actual expositional sequences, where the movie develops its central thesis, are far less interesting than the moments of character exploration. As the main cast become more enraptured by their sexual decadence and over-the-top behavior, the movie becomes far more intriguing. Exploring human sexuality in a very brooding fashion, The Exhibitionists plays out like a slightly more stylistic view of some of the same themes that were once explored in the Japanese gore title Red Room. While the two films are incredibly different from one another, each film is all about repressed sexual desires coming to the front and potentially leading to something much more dangerous.

Laverne Cox, who plays superstar Blithe Stargazer, the very convincing transgendered woman, is certainly one of the biggest show stealers throughout the duration of the movie. The role is far too exaggerated to be taken 100% serious, but at the same time there is something very commanding about her performance. Whenever she steps on screen, she takes up all of the attention. A primary tool that helps gets her character across is the very blatant and frank sexual discussions that she has with several cast members. From eloquently stated descriptions of receiving a facial to faking an orgasm while she forces someone to perform fellatio on her handgun, the character emits a strange aura of sexual danger. The rest of these characters all fit into the bigger/stranger picture, but few seem to have the resonance of Blithe. While her role is ultimately quite limited, the impact that she makes on everything around her ultimately makes the movie.

The Conclusion
Overall, I won’t say that The Exhibitionists makes for “must see” cinema, but it is quite the promising little production from this cast and crew. There are some very strong performances throughout and the movie is peppered with ideas that are presented in a very smart way. Overall, I have to recommend the movie, but I recommend it by providing a preface that audiences be prepared for the low budget aesthetics of modern independent cinema. With that said, I give the movie a high three out of five. It would be a four if the movie were a bit more direct in some regards, but overall, I think many viewers will find this one intriguing.