Thursday, September 22, 2016

BB Movie Review - Brutal As Hell

BB - Official Stills
"BB is never less than compelling viewing, and is well worth your time and money!"

While sex work in any capacity tends to be euphemistically dubbed ‘the oldest profession,’ no facet of that field is more uniquely modern than that of the cam girl, a performer entertaining untold numbers of strangers online with intimate displays into webcams. Naturally this is a subject matter that’s begging to be explored on film, as it not only offers ample opportunity for classic titillation tactics, it also presents us with compelling questions as to just what drives people to get into this line of work, as well as what might drive those who patronize their service. 

This, put very simply, is what BB is all about, and from that bare-bones premise we might easily anticipate something very sleazy and exploitative, particularly once we factor in that the central character is also gay, and much of the film’s early scenes are taken up by sex scenes. However, while the feature debut from director CJ Wallis is indeed filled to the brim with nudity and sexual content, with more than a dash of horror movie in the mix, the primary emphasis is on character-based drama, exploring themes of isolation, loneliness and miscommunication, and the strange way in which these feelings are only intensified by modern communications technology which should, in theory, be bringing us closer together.

We meet LA resident Leah (Jennifer Mae) as she enters what would appear to be some kind of modelling studio for a job interview. Given that moments later she’s asked to strip naked, we know right away it’s not for catalogue work. It transpires Leah is looking into cam girl work as her girlfriend Alina (Victoria Fox) needs to visit her hometown of Bucharest due to a family crisis, but can’t afford the air fare. Soon enough, Leah covers her cropped bleached hair with a glossy pink wig, dabs on a little make-up, adopts a chirpier persona and starts putting on daily webcam shows under the name Candy Cummings, and she proves popular enough to not only pay Alina’s air fare, but also earn them an indulgent weekend in Vegas beforehand. Everything seems to have worked out as planned – but then, once Alina goes away, things start going sour. Leah’s calls and messages go unanswered, and as weeks go by she finds herself alone, with no company but the anonymous strangers picking up her webcam feed. Worse yet, one of her more devoted viewers, Hal (Kristian Hanson), has developed an unhealthy fixation on the woman he knows only as Candy Cummings. And as Hal’s knowledge of information technology extends far beyond knowing how to visit a cam girl site, he begins to intrude on her life beyond the webcam.

A lot of modern indie film seems keen to muddy the waters between art house and grindhouse, and BB sits well in this climate, yet also manages to feel fairly fresh and individual. CJ Wallis (a seasoned short film and music video director, but surely best known to indie horror fans for his on-and-off camera roles on 2009’s Dead Hooker in a Trunk) reportedly took on the bulk of the key filmmaking roles during production, and clearly made the film with limited means at his disposal: small budget, small cast, with much of the action confined to a few key locations. The press release informs us this was very much intentional to promote an indie feel, as was the decision to use largely inexperienced actors. It does come as a surprise that Jennifer Mae, who also receives credit for co-creating her character with Wallis, has never acted on film before, as she gives a terrific performance. It’s certainly a demanding role, given that she’s on camera for more or less the duration of the movie, alone and naked for a great deal of that time, but she does tremendous work commanding the viewer’s attention, her lack of ‘actor’-ish affectations enhancing the overall sense of naturalism (it seems likely that a lot of her webcam scenes are at least partially improvised).

A key question that many will no doubt ask is the spirit in which BB approaches the main character; given the subject matter, there’s obviously the potential for the film to come off judgemental, voyeuristic and misogynistic. This definitely isn’t the case, although it’s perhaps unavoidable that at least a hint of voyeurism comes into the picture; let’s not be coy, the abundance of bare flesh is a key part of what will sell the film to many viewers. Happily, BB does not cast the first stones at either webcam performers or their viewers; indeed, one scene sees a fan of ‘Candy Cummings’ explain how watching her shows every night fills a gap in his otherwise lonely life. Sure, this might come off as sad, but as I think can be said of pornography in general, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it so long as everyone involved understands where the parameters lie.

Alas, the live webcam show’s increased sense of intimacy may well result in some of those blurred lines the poet Mr Thicke told us about, particularly if the person on the other end of the feed is both lonely and suffering mental health issues – and this is where Kristian Hanson’s Hal comes in. Intriguingly, his is actually the first face we’re shown and the first voice we hear in the film, and it’s notable that, while it’s immediately obvious he has problems, neither Hanson nor Wallis ever portray the character as an outright villain or psychopath. In a curious way, his problems begin to mirror Leah’s as the film progresses and her own sanity is tested – but given that Hal’s actions play a key role in her troubles, he can’t come off as too sympathetic.

Still, discussing BB purely in terms of narrative and character in some respects seems to be missing the point, as in large part the film is driven purely by mood. As well as being handsomely shot, the film also boasts an eclectic soundtrack, prominently featuring a number of songs by Mother Marygold which are utilised as a form of oblique narration. It’s similar to how Sean Spillane’s songs were used in Lucky McKee’s The Woman (although sonically speaking they’re worlds apart); as such, the music often feels intrusive and at odds with the action, but it does play a vital role in promoting a sense of tension which is more or less consistent throughout the entire running time.

It may revert to more obvious genre movie territory by the final act, and no doubt it will leave some viewers questioning just what it’s saying about the age of internet porn (not that there should be anything wrong in a film leaving you asking questions); but all in all, BB is never less than compelling viewing, and is well worth your time and money.

BB is available for download (along with its soundtrack) at BitTorrent Now.

Check out the original review here.

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