“Deadly Virtues: Love.Honor.Obey.”

A Break In

Amos Lassen

A menacing young man (Edward Akrout) breaks into a suburban home and encounters a married couple, Tom (Matt Barber) and Allison (Megan Maczko) having sex. He quickly ties them up and tortures the man who he puts in the bathtub and forces Allison to watch.

First time screenwriter Mark Rogers has quite brutally explored the terrible impact of domestic violence in “Deadly Virtues” but it is so deeply buried beneath the torturous moments that it fails to connect with the audience.

 Sadomasochism and rape on the screen are hard to watch and we want to know why this is happening. We do not get the heartbreaking back-story until the finale. This is a somber story that requires a degree of patience and resilience to see all the way through.

We realize that there is a strained form of bondage that has held the marriage together. The intruder is the catalyst to spark change, the necessary force to get Alison to improve the condition of her rotting marriage. The intruder is the driving force and the necessary antidote for to reflect upon her predicament and take action. “Deadly Virtues” is a horribly and finely nuanced examination of hurt, anger and hidden love.

The premise is simple. An obscured man (Edward Akrout) breaks into a suburban home and makes his way upstairs. He picks up a woman’s shoe on the staircase and smells it. The camera lingers on the under-toe sole and the overall impression is one of distaste. He continues up the beige staircase as we become increasingly aware of the lovemaking sounds at the top of the stairs and we soon see the young couple engaging in a bit of light bondage. He enters the room and prepares to join in.

The sadomasochistic role-play is taken to an extreme with the dominant partner’s knowledge of both psychology and physiology that both confirms and then completely disrupts the idea of consent. The point of the drama seems to show that our mainstream sexual cultures are based upon an almost childlike “understanding of sex as a game rather than as the biological response to physical touch. What is more, the depiction and justification of rape culture is part of the story and it is true to the characters and it is not to be denied or ignored”. We see the Tom’s fingers slip inside the shiny second skin that Allison is wearing while tied to the bed and we hear her panting and see her tear-stained cheek all the while he discusses how victims often feel pleasure at the time of the crime despite its circumstance. The effect is visually incredibly erotic and at the same time cold and horrifying to hear.

The film is looks at the difference between true BDSM relationships, the ‘couple play’ associated with pretty little whips and clean, shiny latex and the misunderstanding of these relationships that is regarded as psychopathy. By concentrating on the subject through the shifting gaze of the players in the context of a simple home invasion thriller, it leads us to think about the nature of physical and mental consent and how likely we all are to do things against what we understand as our own will.

Edward Akrout as Aaron combines a sadism that manages to be quite disgusting with a sexiness that relies not so much on charisma but on his gestures that he carefully controls. He is dominant and each twitch of his eyebrows and mouth says something about the lining of the mind and body with his d philosophy. He does not just play the role, he enters in completely. As the film moves forward, his performance makes it clear he is not simply a villain, but a true dominant male in every sense of the word.

Megan Maczko is also stimulating as Alison. She matches the film’s tone with perfect poise. She has plenty of very emotional scenes and when she cries, the emotion always feels somewhat deadened. She comes across as someone sleep talking around her existence and is riveting. Matt Barber as Tom feels less real than the other two but he is also excellent.

During one weekend, “our grand-inquisitor/marriage-guidance counselor from hell” explores and exploits Alison and Tom’s relationship, uncovers uncomfortable truths and acts as a catalyst for extreme liberation.  

Zoran Veljkovic’s cinematography enriches the drama and infuses it with arresting images and a visual palette. Almost abstract-like close-ups of a dripping tap, and a pivotal wine-drinking scene played out largely in shadow complement and enhance the narrative are amazing.

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