Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

[Genophobia] Love Object (2003)

Kenneth is young and awkward, but he is also meticulously organized. His morning routine consists
Love Object - Poster Image
Poster Image
of waking up before the alarm, working out, showering and shaving, and dressing from his carefully categorized closet. The opening scenes that depict this routine not only go a long way in explaining why he is so good at his job as a technical writer, but they also immediately call to mind images of Patrick Bateman from AMERICAN PSYCHO, and while Kenneth may not reach those same heights of pathology, he still wobbles quite a bit off his rocker.

Kenneth is a lonely man. You can tell this by how cold his lifestyle comes across, and by how he listens to his neighbors having sex through the apartment wall. Perhaps he doesn't realize just how lonely he is until a beautiful, quirky young woman is thrust into his life. When Lisa Belmer is assigned to help him with the instruction manual for a very important job, he is hesitant at first—he works better on his own, he says (but he only thinks that because he's so used to being alone)—but still, he can't seem to get her out of his head.

It is about this same time that another woman enters his life...sort of. A stupid prank played by his meathead coworkers introduces Kenneth to Nikki, a very realistic (and very expensive) sex doll that can be customized to fit the owner's specifications. Kenneth, being the sad, lonely little man that he is empties his bank account and orders Nikki online, designing her to look as close to Lisa as he can manage.

When Nikki arrives on his doorstep, she is packed in an enormous wooden crate that can barely fit through his apartment door. In a humorous scene, Kenneth has to convince his curious neighbors that the crate contains a new refrigerator, and that under no circumstances are they to unpack it to more easily get it inside.

Love Object - Post-Coital
Once safely behind closed doors, the lid is lifted and Nikki is exposed inside. She is cold and lifeless, and to the viewer, the crate suddenly seems more like a coffin. Kenneth carefully unpacks her and takes her to the bedroom for awkward and clumsy animalistic sex. Even Kenneth is embarrassed with himself once he is done. This isn't Lisa at all. It is just a plastic corpse that vaguely resembles her.

He even tries to return Nikki, but thank God there is a rule against returning used sex dolls. When he stumbles across her previously unseen instruction manual—basically a holy book to Kenneth—he is inspired to further his fantasy beyond the realm of sex, and he proceeds to wine and dine Nikki with all the confidence that he is unable to muster with Lisa.

But when a romance does begin to blossom between Kenneth and Lisa, Nikki (or rather the Nikki-side of Kenneth's fractured psyche) doesn't take too kindly to it. She threatens him and threatens her until Kenneth has no choice but to react violently. He beats Nikki to “death”, chops her up in the bathtub, and disposes of the pieces. It doesn't matter that Nikki was never alive to begin with, it's still frankly disturbing.

Kenneth's relationship with Lisa isn't all that he hoped for, though, as the reality of her couldn't live
Love Object - Imperfect Lisa
Imperfect Lisa
up to the fantasy that he had created with Nikki. Turns out that he would rather have Nikki back, but he already destroyed her. He opts instead to reverse his original plan—instead of turning Nikki into Lisa, he will now turn Lisa into Nikki.

He kidnaps Lisa and takes her to his apartment, where he intends to plasticize her using instructions that he found on the Internet (of course). Lisa manages to break free just in time, and is seconds away from ending Kenneth's life when the cops bust in. Assessing the situation incorrectly, they open fire on Lisa, killing her. Her body lands in the wooden crate, sealing the transformation.

But this isn't Nikki at all. It is just a fleshy corpse that vaguely resembles her.

Flash forward to a short time in the future, and Kenneth is back at work. He has ordered a new Nikki, and things are going swimmingly. Until he meets a charming young woman, and becomes infatuated with her...

And the cycle begins anew.

Although the ending was fitting, I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if Kenneth had succeeded in plasticizing Lisa. It would have taken the movie to a whole new level of sick—out of the realm of PIN and into NEKROMANTIK territory (both 1988). Had the filmmakers pushed the envelope a bit more, it's possible that LOVE OBJECT would have developed more of an audience. However, it's also possible that doing so would have altered the DNA of the film into something much less enjoyable.

To call this a scary film would be inaccurate, however there are plenty of other adjectives to choose from: disturbing; creepy; unsettling. You won't jump out of your seat during the film, but you probably will once the closing credits start to roll...and proceed to make your way to the shower. This is an inherently unclean movie, and you're bound to get a little on you. It's effective in a more low-key way than many genre fans may be used to, but also has a dark subversive humor running through it that should be easy to appreciate. It's similar in tone, but different in content, to Lucky McKee's cult film MAY (2002), and there should be some overlap between the two audiences.

Kenneth was played quite well by Desmond Harrington, who is more famous for playing lawman Joseph Quinn in the television series DEXTER.  Lisa was played by the beautiful and quirky Melissa Sagemiller, whose filmography doesn't match up with her talent—she deserves better than SOUL SURVIVORS (2001), SORORITY BOYS (2002), and MR. WOODCOCK (2007).  Rounding out the cast is Udo Kier, Rip Torn, Michael Pena, and Brad William Henke, all of which do admirable jobs.

It is disappointing to learn that this was the only film so far to be written and directed by Robert Parigi, who is better known as a producer of shows ranging from TALES FROM THE CRYPT, KING OF THE HILL, BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD, THE GOODE FAMILY, NEIGHBORS FROM HELL, and AGENTS OF SHIELD.  I would love to see more work from him in a creative capacity. It seems that if low-key psychological horror films came with an instruction manual, he definitely read it from front to back.


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