Catch Rec is a series where the Complex Pop Culture team recommends movies, TV shows, or books that we're big fans of but might not be on your radar.
TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted earlier this week: "That moment when you realize every movie is directed by Joe Swanberg." It feels true, especially coming on the heels of the successful Drinking Buddies, the release of his low-key Jane Adams-led film All the Light in the Sky, and his Sundance 2014 hit Happy Christmas. Feels like Swanberg is buzzing with such nervous energy that he'll just draw up an outline (his signature shtick—he doesn't write complete scripts), call up a few friends, and pick up a camera.
Enter: 24 Exposures, Swanberg's experimental foray into genre filmmaking that centers on fetish photographer Billy (Adam Wingard), an artist who collaborates with his girlfriend (White) on casting models, costuming them as corpses, and staging the crime scenes to shoot. When the work day is over, the couple even decide on which model, if the opportunity presents itself, to bring into bed with them. But Billy's work is thrown for a loop when he's questioned by depressed homicide detective Michael Bamfeaux (Simon Barrett) about the murder of one of his models.
In addition to Wingard and Barrett (whose film You're Next starred Swanberg), the cast rattles off like Swanberg's wedding guest list: Helen Rogers, Caroline White, Greg Lyon, and Sophia Takal, of All the Light in the Sky. Tying it together, the micro-budget genre flick's got the feel of late-night programming like you'd find on a tube TV at a Bumblefuck, U.S.A. Motel 6. It's dirty, it's unsettling, and it's shot as on-the-fly as public access television.
But Swanberg doesn't work for the sake of being prolific. Rather, his movies seem to be his way of challenging the public with issues he's wrestling to answer, sometimes not even reaching a conclusion by the film's end. In 24 Exposures, he lays it out on the table when Billy admits to his own voyeurism, posing the question: What's the acceptable line between your art and your reality? How do you manifest your desires without them getting the best of you?
Rather than the homicide investigation as the central plot, you realize the murder was simply a curious way to connect the men to each other. A detective bogged down with dealing with actual dead bodies is able to step back from his own distressing reality by acting as an audience to the creation of Billy's art. Bamfeaux's new hobby becomes a twisted way of detaching himself. Yet, as the detective finds himself liberated through Billy's work, Billy becomes consumed by his fantasies and sexual impulses, first for a jealous model Callie (Takal) and then waitress/new muse Rebecca (Rogers), a woman stuck in an abusive relationship.
Questions of consent, domestic abuse, and the objectification of women rush to the forefront here. The eroticism of fetish photography is presented in an unglossy way that undermines it. Only when Billy begins acting out his desires outside his work does it become problematic and compromise the integrity of his subjects, resulting in a series of confrontations that mark the consequences of his transgressive actions. Unsatisfyingly, however, the issue of domestic abuse is treaded over, offering a too-easy solution for Rebecca, though still giving her relief.
But as a wink to the audience, Swanberg literally inserts himself as a character and addresses the unresolved experiences that Det. Bamfeaux, a changed man, ultimately wants to write about, saying, "These kinds of things happen in real life, but they don’t make for compelling, commercial, uh… books."
Its other drawbacks are obvious: the acting isn't Oscar-winning, and the film can sometimes feel like a really rough draft of a pitch to David Fincher. But that only adds to its bizarre charm. It it's not exactly a slasher flick, not exactly a sexploitation flick, nor is it exactly a lo-fi drama. Ultimately, the film is an exploration of human relationships and expression of taboo fantasies presented so blatantly that it's guaranteed to receive polarizing responses from its audiences. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a Swanberg flick.
Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
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