Dir: Steve Shill. US. 2009. 105 mins.
As if there wasn’t enough work-related stress in these downsized, recessionary times, Obsessed presents another concern: your stunning new blonde temp might destroy your marriage and professional reputation if you don’t submit to her sexual desires. Recalling infidelity-themed thrillers such as Fatal Attraction and Disclosure, this Screen Gems film initially tries to confront issues of sexual inequality, but it isn’t long before Obsessed’s hand-wringing tone acquiesces to the material’s sleazy absurdity, eliciting more laughs than drama.
Obsessed , which opened in the US over the weekend to an impressive estimated $29m, doesn’t have any marquee names beyond Beyoncé Knowles, who’s known more as a pop superstar than as an actress. Still, the film’s better-than-expected opening numbers suggest that this thriller – which updates the psycho-seductress theme of 1987’s Fatal Attraction with elements of the stalking-homewrecker storyline of 1992’s The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – might be a modest counter-programming success against May’s heavily-anticipated tentpole films.
Los Angeles investment manager Derek (Idris Elba) is happily married to Sharon (Knowles) when a beautiful office temp named Lisa (Ali Larter) starts working for his firm. Derek and Lisa’s relationship is professional – albeit somewhat flirtatious – but when she aggressively comes on to him at a party, he rejects her. Undeterred, Lisa begins obsessively insinuating herself into Derek’s seemingly perfect life while he tries to keep Sharon from finding out, lest his wife think he’s having an affair.
Making his feature debut, television director Steve Shill (EastEnders, Deadwood) gives the tony Los Angeles locations a sleek opulence, but the film’s approach is problematic from the start. David Loughery’s screenplay may follow a predictable trajectory – married man meets temptress, tries to resist, she refuses to go away – but there’s still plenty of potential enjoyment to be had if the audience gets caught up in Derek and Lisa’s overpowering sexual chemistry and the seductress’ demented scheming. But from the outset, Lisa’s fixation on Derek feels bizarre and unhealthy, even though, amazingly, none of the other characters seem to notice. And while Obsessed tries to underplay Derek’s reactions to Lisa’s flirtations, so as to cloud the issue about his culpability in her behaviour, any attempts at moral ambiguity are undercut by the filmmakers’ failure to make this possible affair hum with erotic danger.
Initially, Obsessed takes some stabs at social commentary by portraying Derek’s alpha-male office as being divided between the cocky, successful heterosexual men who run the firm and their obedient underlings who are all women and gay men. In addition, the audience learns that Derek fell for Sharon when she was his secretary, offering a hint that Derek gets off on beautiful women who are subservient to him.
But Obsessed’s sexual politics and furrowed-brow moralism are tough to swallow when the film’s chief selling points are its tawdry illicit-affair storyline and its eventual catfight battles between Lisa and Sharon. Since the cast is encouraged to take the pulpy material deathly seriously, the result is a plentiful supply of unintentional laughs as Obsessed veers toward horror-movie shocks near its finale.
As the demented seductress, Larter simply isn’t fun enough playing a devil with dynamite legs. Saddled with the unglamorous role of the put-upon wife, Knowles (who also executive-produced Obsessed) throws a lot of attitude around but doesn’t leave much of an impression. Of the three leads, Elba acquits himself nicely, although to the assumed disappointment of some moviegoers, he’s the only character in this tame erotic thriller who ever takes his shirt off.
Sony Pictures Releasing International
Jon Gary Steele