Director: John McNaughton
Screenplay: Stephen Peters
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Theresa Russell, Denise Richards, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Robert Wagner, Bill Murray, Eduardo Yañez
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Original UK Release: 1998
There’s a significant difference between good trash and bad trash in cinema. Bad trash is in abundance, films that follow their tropes and squander their advantages in the medium for the sake of pushing a product out as quickly as possible, without thought of artistic licence or breadth – check out the listings of most ‘Movies4Men’ broadcasts or primary examples.
Good trash is something that’s harder to come by, but the experience is far more rewarding. Unashamed genre pictures that divulge in the eccentricities and occasionally camp value of their roots, that seek to follow through on the promise of their outlines with as much effort as possible. It knows it’s bad for you, but it might as well try to make it worth your while. Basic Instinct 2, Piranha 3D, and pretty much anything in the outrageously entertaining filmography of John Waters is proof that (without pandering homage) any typical B-movie can evolve into something wonderful through the sheer will of artistic vision even without a budget to throw around.
1998’s Wild Things is one of these pictures; an erotic thriller in the finest sense of the word that’s ludicrous, violent, sexy and engaging in all the right ways to make it a success. Populated with a reliable roster of contemporary talent and two sizzling flavour-of-the-month performers (Neve Campbell and Denise Richards), it’s just the kind of wild time that fills every crevice of its potential pallet with creative ease and certainty.
John McNaughton’s direction is a compelling lenience of soap opera charm, executed with complete validity to gaze into this melodramatic world that’s almost real, but not quite. The sterile environments of loudly decorated manors, office corridors and hospitals transplanted with the sweaty and fried cusp of Miami and its surrounding bayou. Still and steady frames that establish settings rigidly and follow the characters through their scenes emulate ever so subtly the experience of an episode of Days of Our Lives – lurid, but within reason.
Every character is as passionate as they must be, but all withholding the secrets of their interweaving lives that allow it to blossom as time goes on. The trickle of reveals and plot turns come with the strongest beats, and even if you know where it’s all going, it can somehow trick you into following through in its bullshit production of class absurdity.
In the third act, Richard’s malignant damsel is seen hiding out in her safe house, framed boldly behind her is an ancient cabinet stocked to the gills with loaded arms. You are invited to gleefully rejoice in the knowledge that at some point soon they will be used to settle a violent confrontation – it too obscured behind closed doors for knowingly ambiguous reasons.
If there are lapses in its execution, it’s that occasionally the pace sags when the characters aren't lying their pants off to one another, and it could possibly do with being a little bit shorter to keep it as sweet as possible.
Neve Campbell and Denise Richards, specifically the latter, are actresses best utilised in very specific types of roles. Here they’re used to some of the best of their ability as two manipulative youths working their way through the system via the men that fall under their spell, and their screen presences and chemistry areas explicitly magnetic and sexually charged as their characters.
Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon are terrific in their duelling performances, Bill Murray is a colourful lawyer while Theresa Russell is practically a queen in clinging garments. The entire time, George S. Clinton’s score subserviently glazes over all of this with traditionally sinister notes, and an eclectic use of smooth jazz that horns its way through every sensual encounter.
Wild Things is an underrated gem of 90s farce; its exploitation all the way, but a rousing and deliberately mischievous distraction that hits the spot – even when its credits seek to make further sense of its illogicality, it somehow manages to surprise right until the final scene.