Directed by: David Barker
Runtime: 80 minutes
The press kit for Pimped poses the following curious question: “What if unbridled masculinity confronted an elegant, intelligent and very powerful female force?” With our culture currently consumed by the ins and outs of identity politics, toxic masculinity and the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, it only makes sense that questions of identity and masculinity would permeate the landscape of horror and thriller cinema.
Pimped focuses on the story of Sarah Rachael Montrose (Ella Scott Lynch), a seemingly normal and slightly bored housewife, who meets up with the slimy yet charming Lewis Blake (Benedict Samuel) for what has the appearance of a harmless one-night stand. However, Lewis has other designs on Sarah and ensnares her in a cruel sex game with assistance from his degenerate rich-boy housemate, Kenneth Hanson (Robin Goldsworthy). As Sarah’s shock and outrage quickly transforms into righteous fury, the film escalates dramatically into an orgy of blood, anger and white-knuckled tension. Sarah and Lewis are forced to make an unholy alliance in an attempt to cover up their mutual misdeeds, and Sarah must confront the urges of her fractured psyche if she’s to best Lewis at his own game.
For first-time feature director and co-writer David Barker, Pimped is a strong outing which utilises both the pros and cons of independent film-making. Filmed on a tight budget, like most Australian indie films, Barker makes great use of his cinematic eye, filling the frame with gorgeous cityscapes, urban streets and beautifully textured interiors. The film simply looks stunning, and the drama is gripping enough to distract from the minimal amount of sets used to create multiple scenes.
As a low-budget thriller, the film is heavy on exposition which might be a barrier for some. However, Barker and his writing partner Louise Mentor overcome this hurdle by injecting the film with terse banter and philosophical rigour, not shying away from Sarah’s inner conflict and feminine perspective as these horrific events unfold in front of her eyes. The film is also indebted to its musical component for really immersing the audience in each scene, thanks to a gripping score from composer Pete Jones. There’s also a wild house party in the film’s opening scene, aided by the electronic thump of “Fuck The Pain Away” by Peaches, which does an admirable job of immediately setting up location, theme and character with maximum lusty thrills.
However, the real strength in Pimped lies with the performances. Lynch carries the film with the hefty weight of playing multiple roles within the same character, an act which she pulls off effortlessly. The audience is privy to more information than the rest of the characters in the film, and Lynch makes sure that we can see the cogs turning in her mind as her intentions and unwieldy ambivalence to Lewis’ violence begin to raise more questions than answers. As the cold and calculating Lewis, Samuel is suitably intense, imbuing an arguably despicable character with an unlikely dimensionality: we know he’s a piece of shit, but he’s an interesting piece of shit. As his control of the situation begins to slip away, so to does his mask, and much of the film’s churning tension rests in Barker’s framing of Samuel’s captivating gaze and flashes of grimace.
What I enjoyed most about Pimped was its universality. It’s refreshing to see a local indie film that doesn’t rely on our colloquial or traditional Australian identity to propel the narrative. While there’s an undeniably Australian heart to the film, Barker’s direction and writing could easily translate to any other metropolitan setting to explore the same themes of violence, trauma and identity. For this reason, I’m not surprised that Pimped has found success with international audiences hungry for an idiosyncratic glimpse of fictionalised Australian life outside the outback, such as FrightFest in London or the Hard:Line Festival in Europe.
While the gruesome portrayal of rape and murder might be hard for some to stomach, Pimped is a taut and gripping psychological thriller that does a whole lot with very little. It’s a real testament to Barker’s skill as writer and director that’s he’s able to turn out a world-class thriller from very modest resources. It’s not going to make you scream, but Pimped will have you on the edge of your seat and talking about the experience for days afterwards.