Director : Steve Shill
Screenplay : David Loughery
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Idris Elba (Derek), Beyoncé Knowles (Sharon), Ali Larter (Lisa), Jerry O’Connell (Ben), Bonnie Perlman (Marge), Christine Lahti (Reese), Nathan Myers (Kyle), Nicolas Myers (Kyle), Matthew Humphreys (Patrick), Scout Taylor-Compton (Samantha), Richard Ruccolo (Hank)
It seems like it’s been a while since somewhat has dipped into the Fatal Attraction well and delivered a thriller about a psychotic woman tearing apart the life of the man she will do anything to possess. In the years immediately following Adrian Lyne’s zeitgeist-puncturing domestic thriller, which itself drew heavily from the male fear about female insanity that drove Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut Play Misty for Me (1971), it was all too easy to serve up slight variations on the theme: an obsessive roommate (1991’s Single White Female), an obsessive teenager (1993’s The Crush), an obsessive secretary (1993’s The Temp), and so forth. Now we have Obsessed, a stylishly empty stab at the genre that makes no bones about its obviousness even as it introduces a deliberately racialized twist that is as downplayed as it was highlighted in screenwriter David Loughery’s previous film, last summer’s Lakeview Terrace.
The happy family at the center of the storm is headed by Derek (Idris Elba), a successful investment manager who, in the film’s opening sequence, has just purchased a massive, beautiful Los Angeles home with his beautiful wife Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles) and their beautiful toddler. They drive up to the house in a beautiful Cadillac Escalade and proceed to make beautiful love on the beautiful floor. In short, everything in their lives is beautiful.
That is, until the arrival of the (also beautiful) Lisa (Ali Larter), a temp secretary who sets her sights on Derek. As Derek’s colleague Ben (Jerry O’Connell) dutifully warns him, some women see the workplace as their “hunting grounds,” and she has clearly target him. Of course, like so many other Fatal Attraction-inspired thrillers, such a plot inherently pathologizes single women, and Obsessed takes this to an almost absurd degree by denying Lisa any discernible logic or sense of even fragile sanity. She is a cipher from the get-go, a deranged, one-dimensional psychopath who only looks like a well-tended model. At least Glenn Close’s bloody antics in Fatal Attraction were driven by her genuine mistreatment by a man; Lisa just hones in on Derek and goes after him.
Of course, Derek is almost willfully ignorant of Lisa’s intentions, even after Ben’s little speech, which is why he constantly allows himself to get sucked into doing things that feed her delusions. He is a genuinely good man who has no intentions of adultery, but he allows Lisa to flirt with him in little ways and he offers her emotional support when he finds her crying in the lunch room over her perpetual singleness. He never does anything overt to give her the idea that he is interested, but she makes the assumption anyway. Derek’s biggest mistake is not telling any of this to Sharon, who sits at home completely unaware that anything is going on in her husband’s life until things really get out of hand, which culminates in a sequence in which Lisa slips Derek a roofy and then apparently rapes him, an outrageous plot development that inexplicably plays no further role.
At that point, about two-thirds of the way into the film, the story is essentially handed over to Sharon, which is perhaps the filmmakers’ way of reinserting some positive female assertiveness into a film that treats female desire as simply psychotic. It is also an obvious crowd-pleasing tactic, allowing as it does for Beyoncé to put on a fierce scowl and eventually take on the home-wrecking blonde in an over-the-top and eventually vertiginous catfight that provides cathartic release for the film’s pent-up hostility. Director Steve Shill, a television veteran making his feature-film debut, delivers all of this with a familiar sense of style and panache that almost covers over just how rudimentary and derivative the whole enterprise is.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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