by Rich Moreland, November 2014
With the explosion of “Fifty Shades of Grey” to the highly marketable “mommie porn” audience, adult film has been spinning its own version of the dominance/submission formula for a while now. Mostly, the result is a variety of BDSM lite shoots where a bit of flogging and a blindfold are standard fare. “Shades of Scarlet” moves past this fluff and turns up the heat a bit. The film’s BDSM scenes flavor an emerging adult genre I call “submission porn,” a cross between low-cal BDSM and Kink.com‘s harsher fare.
“Shades” introduces an erotic writer Roz Collins (Anthony Rosano) who responds to a fan email with a cell phone seduction that appears off beat. His image on-screen is strictly in profile, dark and foreboding with extreme facial closeups. Of course, that is not by accident.
His fan, the bookwormish office worker Karlie Montana, delights in Collins’ creativity, especially his latest work, “Scarlet: When Passions Collide.” His books take her away from her mundane reality emphasized by the film’s Midwestern setting. As a result, she romanticizes Collins as “a man I could never meet” and Scarlet, as “as a girl I could never be.”
In their first conversation she says she could never do the things he writes about.
“Never or not yet?” he replies and the tone for the film is set.
Collins asks her if she would like to meet the characters in his book. “They’re real?” she asks. “They are now,” he says, and leaves instructions for her new adventure.
Giddy at first and then apprehensive, Karlie obeys, knowing that her fear of her desires is hovering over her. She will meet Collins’s kinky mind with the sex play of two couples: Mr. Pete and AJ Applegate, and Tommy Pistol and Romi Rain.
Entering a warehouse covered with street art, a stunned Karlie encounters Mr. Pete and the submissive AJ fully engaged in a BDSM scene. The scenario will be repeated later when she walks into a dungeon-like room in which Tommy and Romi are likewise playing. To emphasize their vulnerability, both women are blindfolded and subjected to whipping, cropping, paddling.
In the first scene, the voyeuristic Karlie reaches into her panties; in the second, she fondles herself after being ordered to remove them. Mr. Pete and AJ transform Karlie’s expression from reticence to fascination; by the time Tommy and Romi’s sexual romp ends with the pop shot, she’s entranced.
Director Mike Quasar has constructed two dynamite sex scenes with just the right blend of bondage and hardcore sex. There’s smacking and spanking, lots of deep throating and vaginal penetration, but no anal because it is not a big seller in the couples market.
After watching Mr. Pete and AJ, Karlie inwardly confesses that she’s in love with Collins and is ready to engage him. However, before they can meet, he insists she must return to the warehouse and seek out a man called “Tommy.”
“I don’t remember that character,” she says.
“I haven’t written him yet,” Collins replies.
Collins knows Karlie is obedient; Tommy will test her will to submit.
At first Karlie winces as a suspended Romi receives her punishments. Before Tommy unshackles his submissive for sex, he confines Karlie to a jail-like cage to watch his raven-haired captive pleasured by her “master.”
An educational moment for neophyte BDSMers occurs here. Tommy turns to Karlie and demands to know if she wants him to “hurt” Romi. She shakes her head. He then asks his caged guest if he should “go harder” with his playmate. Karlie is okay with that. In response, Pete and Romi lovingly kiss and Romi smiles appreciatively when the going gets rough, declaring she loves the pain because it intensifies her sexual response.
BDSMers separate emotional hurt from pain. Pain is enjoyable in an erotic sense. Hurting is never acceptable and Quasar makes that point here.
Goodbye to Scarlet
The film’s final sex scenes are contrasts. Karlie gets a call from Collins informing her a package is arriving with clothes to wear for tonight’s appointment. As usual, she anticipates meeting with him but the time is not right, she learns.
Again in the warehouse, Karlie stands, blindfolded with a leash held by James Deen. This three-way scene will feature the sultry Skin Diamond, James’ submissive, who will become Karlie’s dominant. It’s training for Karlie who addresses James and Skin as “master” and “mistress,” thanking them for everything they do to her.
There’s mild to moderate flogging and cropping suitable for viewers who feel comfortable getting into BDSM. Interestingly, Karlie Montana’s bondage resume does not include Kink.com, whereas AJ, Skin, Tommy, and James have shot for the San Francisco studio several times. Yet, Karlie’s performance is convincing enough to pass the authentic Kink submissive test. That’s verisimilitude.
There are a variety of position changes to go with the usual porn fare: lots of oral sex to highlight the action featuring enthusiastic, top of the line performers. When the sex gets steamy, the bondage ingredients tend to be dropped, something which often happens with real life lovers experimenting with BDSM.
The next day at work, Karlie takes a call from Collins.
“How was your night?” he asks.
“Incredible, I never in a million years thought something like that would happen to me,” she says.
He tells her the time has come and she enthusiastically expects to meet with him. But first, he wants to know what her imagination tells her he looks like.
The significance of her journey is revealed. Karlie must engage reality through her fantasies, to find common ground with her fears so her sexuality can be released. After she describes a tall handsome man, Collins terminates the call with a good-bye to “Scarlet.” She politely corrects him with “Karlie,” but it is too late, her imagination has leapfrogged reality.
Karlie is given her dream man, a meeting set up by Collins who tells her “you get to be everything you ever wanted to be.” In a final phone call, Collins says a farewell to “Scarlet,” reminding Karlie that “this is where the story ends,” and, of course, her hoped for reality begins.
She enters the warehouse one more time.
The final sex scene with Derrick Pierce is Karlie’s awakening through restraint–leather cuffs, a blindfold, and bondage sex–put in motion by a voice she can never meet, a creator of characters that are not real. Though there are submissive elements, Derrick is gentle and romantic, fulfilling Karlie’s fantasies.
The scene is uplifting with music that lends a dreamy quality to the sex. In fact, dreams are the closing image of a film that ends where it began, in the imagination of a sleepy office worker who puts down her copy of the Scarlet novel and drifts off, alone in her bed, into a bondage phantasmagoria.