Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Disney, widescreen 1.66:1, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 26 chapters, rated R, 103 min., $29.99, street date 11/16/99.
Directed by Atom Egoyan. Starring Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar, Mia Kirshner, Arsinee Khanjian, Sarah Polley.
Forbidden desires and dangerous intrigue generate sizzling heat in this erotic thriller! At a sexy strip club called Exotica, three strangers - an obsessive man, an erotic table dancer and the club's mysterious D.J. - share much more than is apparent at first glance! As their secret passions grow, they become more deeply entangled in an inescapable web of jealousy, deceit and revenge! The powerfully seductive hit Exotica is gripping entertainment - you won't be able to take your eyes off it!
How could a movie about a strip club be so boring?! Okay, that might not be completely fair, because many films in the "straight to video thriller" genre feature strippers and they're pretty dull, but that's in a different way; those movies stink in a "poorly made movie with no coherent plot or characters" way.
Exotica is a different affair. Actually, it lacks a plot, but the characters are real and coherent; they're just tremendously flat and dull. I had a hard time mucking through this movie just because I was able to maintain so little interest in the participants. They're all sad and disengaged from the world, and they plod through their sordid, seedy little lives as best they can. At no point did I ever have any curiosity about what was happening with them.
Okay, to say that I had no interest in probably a little strong, since Exotica does become more intriguing toward the end. It turns out that all the characters are connected, and as the pieces come together, my interest increased. Still, by that point, I just wanted the movie to end. It's not a long picture, but it felt that way.
I admire director Atom Egoyan's willingness to subvert the usual storytelling process here; the film progresses in an almost willfully oblique manner, and I like to see movies that deviate from the norm. However, he needed to throw a few more crumbs to the audience along the way. Another film from 1994 - Pulp Fiction - showed that one can construct a movie in a nonlinear fashion but make it interesting and provocative to the viewer, but Exotica just managed bore me.
The movie seems competently acted, though everyone's so blah and depressed that it's difficult to see much happening with the characters. I found Exotica to be rather heavy-handed in its depictions of these sad people and their sad lives and the hope and joy they lost; no, not every movie has to be of the "triumph of the human spirit" variety - lots of time the human spirit loses - but to show these lives as being so unremittingly melancholy also seems unrealistic.
Exotica appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD. Although the case lists the ratio as being 1.66:1, it's clearly not that dimension, and 1.85:1 seems more correct. As is typical of films distributed by Disney (Miramax is their subsidiary), the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.
Perhaps to match the film itself, Exotica presents a very blah and flat picture. Its biggest problem stems from the overly dark image. While I understand that this movie was shot that way, the picture nonetheless seems way too dark much of the time; it's often very difficult to determine what's happening. Black levels seem okay, but the shadow detail is poor.
Sharpness usually seems adequate, though some softness appears at times. However, some definite edge enhancement interferes at times; jagged edges and moire effects crop up on occasion. While these aren't a frequent occurrence, that's mainly the result of the heavy darkness in this picture; we see so little detail for much of the time that objects probably would have shown these problems lack the resolution to do so.
The print used for the transfer seems good, with no evidence of grain, scratches, marks or hairs, and I also saw no digital artifacts. Color is not a strength of this DVD due to the visual design, but when it does appear, hues seem decent but unspectacular.
Although the comments above are largely negative, they shouldn't be seen as a condemnation of the image. While Exotica looks below average, it's not badly so; as such, I gave it a "C-" rating. Yes, the movie doesn't look particularly good, but I had to also consider the director's intentions; this film was supposed to look dark, so I can't give the DVD a tremendously low rating for replicating the original design. Films like this can be very hard to rate, but "C-" seems about right for Exotica.
The movie's Dolby Surround 2.0 mix also appears very mediocre. The main strength it offers is a pretty good forward soundstage. There's good separation in those channels and it provides a nice image. The mono rears add to the effect, but not always in a logical way. While most of the surround usage involves music, some effects also appear, and some of those don't make much sense, such as a scene in which we hear footsteps coming from the rears for no apparent reason.
The limited range of the 2.0 surrounds also mars the overall sonic image. Music from the front sounds pretty clean and maintains some good bass at times, but that presentation is hurt by the thinness of the audio from the rear; the surrounds add a harshness to the music that makes it sound much less convincing. Dialogue seems consistently intelligible, although it appears slight dull at times. Effects also are marred by the brittle quality of the surrounds, but not to the degree of the music, so they seem fairly realistic. Exotica sounds okay, but that's the best I can say about the audio.
Which is much more than I can claim for the DVD's supplements, because there aren't any. No trailer, no biographies, not even a booklet in the case; Disney, et al, prefer to offer a card with cover art on one side and chapter listings on the other. Disney have shown some signs of life in their DVD department, but none of that appears here.
Exotica is a DVD to avoid. The film itself ends on a fairly strong note, but it's a long, slow, dull journey to get there. The DVD offers very mediocre picture and sound and absolutely no extras. At absolute best, it's a rental title, but I don't even think it's worth that.