A Second Take
Wild Things



often we watch a Hou Hsiao-hsien film as if it was Jerry Bruckheimer product. Maybe The Wedding Crashers has more in common with Preston Sturges than audiences thought. Thanks to the relative ease with which the modern consumer can attain a restored older film or once out-of-print foreign film, A Second Take allows a writer to describe why a film was overrated or overlooked the first time. We do not expect our readers to agree, which is precisely the point: consensus occludes independent thinking.

There are many words which can be used to describe Wild Things, most of which are variations of "filthy.” While such a description isn’t wholly inaccurate, it’s, at the very least, incomplete. Wild Things is the kind of guilt-inducing trash you’ll want to hate, yet part of you will be magnetically drawn to. At once, crime thriller, soft porn, high-school lesbian romance, neo-noir knockoff, affluent-rich-kid drama, skimpy swimwear catalogue, and Hitchcock-with-a-hard-on crime investigation, this movie is so much in so little time. It has subsequently left a mark in the improbable history of film trash and the minds of teenage boys the world over. If nothing else, it remains the only bright spot in director John McNaughton’s oeuvre.

Late New Yorker critic Pauline Kael once wrote, “Movies are rarely great art, and if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” Is this film great art? Yes, in the same way that a Kit Kat bar is great food– tempting while it lasts, but with little if any sustenance once you’ve consumed it. Set in the upscale community of Blue Bay, Florida, the whole of Wild Things is very The O.C. meets Melrose Place. Yet for all its supposed soap opera trappings, and with more twists than a corkscrew collection, Wild Things treads the line between eroticism and exploitation in a way that none of Spelling’s cinematic “zippy codes” would never dare. The pseudo-soft core sequences have so firmly established themselves in the canon of great on-screen sex moments that no amount of Brown Bunny-like oral controversy is likely to ever shake them.

Much has been made of the film’s many sex scenes in and, in truth, this remains one of its strongest selling points. On average, we get a sex scene every five minutes, from the ménage-a-trois between Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, and Denise Richards to the voyeuristic lesbian swimming pool affair, all of which make the movie seem like merely a gluttonous sex fest. Without such prurience, Wild Things would be one big vacuous confection on a candy factory's conveyor belt. Because you see, right now it’s one big, sexy, vacuous confection on a candy factory's conveyor belt. Speaking of which, “there is a lot of sex” is probably as close to an accurate plot description as you’re likely to find when trying to recount any of the movie’s dozens of subplots. This is also one of the few movies where knowing the plot prior to seeing it really is of minor importance.

Never mind the plot holes, the sloppy errors, the abuse of style-over-substance, a great Bill Murray, a glimpse of Kevin Bacon’s member (this, however, depending on your personal preferences, can be either a good thing or a bad thing), Wild Things dishes out the kind of sardonic, tasteless R-rated hedonism that would feel right at home in a John Waters film. With its regular fits of teasing and eroticism, this tale of deception and hidden alliances initially attracted negative criticism for its blatant lack of any form of cinematic value. Which is unfortunate, because this is sexed-up escapist nonsense at its very best, and it wears its colors sans shame.

As iconic as its adult content and plot twists are, there are two more reasons Wild Things will always be remembered: Neve Campbell and Denise Richards. At the time of the film’s release, Campbell was an already semi-established young actress with roles in such mediocre fare as TV drama Party of Five and teen slasher Scream; Wild Things was merely “the next project.” Quite another story for Richards, who until then seemed to have appeared in every single TV series produced in the first half of the 90s. Then, this remarkable thing happened. Denise Richards has never been more Denise Richards than she has in Wild Things, not only for the fact that she spends only a handful of minutes wearing little more than a skimpy bikini. What with dubious attempts at building a respectable career (Valentine, Yo Puta and even The World Is Not Enough haven’t done much in the way of extending her artistic credibility) and the odd failed marriage, Richards still hasn’t managed to shake off the image she appropriated with this movie. She will forever be known as “that hot chick with the big boobs who made out with Neve Campbell in a swimming pool.”

Where most movies end, Wild Things begins. It’s only after the first hour, when you think you finally have a grasp on what you are supposed to be following that the movie really takes off by firing plot twist after plot twist at the speed of a bullet racing through air. Unlike a lot of similar fare, the strength of <>Wild Things lies in its stamina. Eight years on, the movie is still as hot a discussion topic as it ever has been, and seeing it again provides the same amount of guilt and pleasure as you got out of it the first time around. In its current issue, Britain’s Q Magazine ran a feature on the “115 Worst Records It’s OK To Love.” If a similar list was made for movies, I’d bet my bottom dollar that Wild Things would be on it. It probably isn’t as wild as it pretends to be, but it does prove that a little filthy corruption always looks good.


By: Sandro Matosevic
Published on: 2006-08-14
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