by Rich Moreland, October 2014
In an industry where brilliant story telling is often overlooked, B Skow’s dark and brooding These Things We Do (distributed by Girlfriends Films and written by David Stanley) is among this year’s best adult offerings.
Water is running from a bathtub tap as the opening credits roll. The grouting around the tub and tile has a worn, tired, and discouraged look. As the credits conclude, the camera moves beneath the water line, focusing upward toward the distant shower head. Still water moves ever so perceptively.
An over voice says, “It’s all your fault . . . You were supposed to be helping me, you of all people.
These Things We Do is a sordid tale. Dr. Tom Berkin (Alan Stafford) cannot escape his personal demons to clear a path for his patients. A “voyeur” of the worst order, he masturbates while his female patients describe their sexual dysfunctions.
Today it is Mandy (Kimber Day) on the couch. In Freudian psychotherapy mode, Tom sits behind her. She can’t see him, but she knows . . .
“I can hear it. I can hear it right now!” the incensed girl shouts. Without warning, an aroused Tom pours water in Mandy’s mouth, gagging (drowning?) her, shutting out her story and minimizing her reality. Water is a major motif in the film. Soon Mandy will fill her own mouth with the deadliest water, her final vision that of a shower head, bent downward toward her.
Mandy is sassy and a tease (a cover for a tortured soul?), just the right ingredient for the self-destructive chemistry she has with her doctor. He pushes at her, she pushes right back. Despite her emotional turmoil, Mandy is in charge of the pulsating sex that ensues in his office, a feminist attitude that permeates adult film today. By the way, AVN film reviewers should nominate Kimber Day’s performance in this scene for a 2014 award.
The settings for the sex in These Things are stark. In the consultation room, the wall is blue, the couch a dirty beige, a reflection of Tom’s perversions and his seedy affairs.
A small bookshelf sits to the right of the couch, empty except for three small candles, the film’s central image.
A frustrated and angry Mandy storms out of the room, slamming the door. Skow’s camera follows her, capturing the door’s reflection in the full length mirror beside it. Naked, Tom studies himself in the glass. His debilitating self-absorption is illustrated with a single drop of fluid dangling out of his semi-erect penis. Mandy will see this image pointing down at her as she breathes her torments away below the water line.
Incidentally, keep in mind that Skow uses rapid camera shots to explore the neurotically driven sexuality that is the film. There will be sudden flashbacks and off center angles, techniques reminiscent of Orson Welles’ classic, Citizen Kane.
Back in the office the doctor’s secretary, Roberta (Dana DeArmond), takes a call from the police. No words needed, just an image. An overhead shot of a submerged and nude Mandy, staring straight ahead, legs splayed, water gentle rippling over her and into her, an invitation in death.
Not for Real, Just for Fun
The narrative moves to Tom’s bedroom. Staring at her cellphone, his wife Abby (Marie McCray) utters, “My little sister is dead.” Flashbacks of Tom choking Abby and forcing himself on her are Mandy reminders. Is he trying to silence his internal demons? The camera quickly reverts to Tom and Abby reflected in an oval mirror above her dressing table. A bouquet of roses, mixed reds and whites in full bloom is to the right. The roses are Freudian orgasms, the colors an entanglement of the two sisters Doctor Tom covets, one illicitly, the other nominally.
Another flashback to Mandy on the couch once again. She begins a thought that is sharply cut off, just like her life. Was she about to mention her sister? The camera shifts back to the bedroom. Tom is masturbating while his wife sleeps; a voice over transitions the scene to the doctor’s office where another patient, Sara (Siri), recounts her boyfriend’s kinks.
Sara’s narrative moves the story forward. Her boyfriend Hodgy (Steven St. Croix) has a toolbox filled with ordinary items that serve a delightfully deviant sexual imagination.
She confesses a fear of him at first, but once Hodgy got into his kinks, “it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before.” Emphasizing that the pain was “exquisite,” Sara deliberately plays to Tom’s fatal Mandy connection. Sara tells the doctor that everything was “an act.” Hodgy, who manhandles one of his BDSM submissives, Anna, played by Bailey Blue (aka Dahlia Sky) wouldn’t hurt anyone. It’s just a play session, Sara insists, “not for real, just for fun to make the sex better.”
Listening to her story, Tom wriggles in his chair. Erotic excitement carries with it discomfort and tension, all part of Sara’s agenda. She describes is a highly charged three-way played out in a sterile room only a clinician would love. The bed is covered in black with nothing on the walls except a pair of lights. Skow lays bare the turbulent emotions and violent outbursts that are the film itself.
Awful and Wrong
Because Skow lets his performers do what they do best, the sex scenes are unscripted. The three-way dabbles in BDSM; Anna wears a collar and a leash, light spankings with spatulas and long handled spoons flavor the sex.
Overall, it’s BDSM lite with lots of oral, vaginal, anal, and a DP that includes sex toys. Skow’s camera keeps all bodies fully on screen, giving performers a larger reality than is normally seen in a wall-to-wall shoot. A mechanically operated dildo drives Anna and Sara to ecstasy and after the pop, a nasty clean up between them seals the deal.
Sara says she never “felt so much pain” and “it was awful and wrong, but great,” a phrase that indicts Tom. Like a wounded adolescent, the guilt ridden doctor retreats into his fantasies to ward off his own anxieties. Unconsciously projecting himself into Sara, he asks, “Are you afraid of hurting somebody or if somebody is going to hurt you?”
Shifting immediately to the bedroom and a comatose Abby, a nearly empty wine bottle and tumbler are on the bed stand along with some pills. Felled by Mandy’s death, Abby is as emotionally dead as her sister is physically gone.
Hearing a voice repeating, “What are you afraid of?” the doctor’s fascination with a pocketknife corkscrew and his unresponsive wife is devilishly psychotic.
I Know What You Are, Doctor
While on the couch, Sara confesses that she’s thought about making him cum, and wondered what his expression would be. Skow concentrates on fidgeting in this scene: Sara’s hands look to release energy; Tom’s face twists as he yields to his compulsion and opens his pants.
In a wicked seduction, Sara tempts him with “Don’t you know a free meal when you see one, doctor?” Girls like her “know what boys like,” she taunts.
Reaching for his crouch, Sara’s anger seizes control in a deft movement. “I know what you are, doctor!” she explodes.
While Siri’s acting is top of the line, Alan Stafford is superb as the obsessive physician. His facial expressions reveal Tom’s distorted mind. However, at times Alan’s dialogue is not easily understood which may be as much a technical issue as an acting one.
Later Skow captures the deadness and futility that pervade this film with a single image.
Once again, Tom is sitting at the bed’s foot board. Shut away emotionally from her husband, Abby lies self-tranquilized, her legs spread. The doctor stares straight ahead before lighting a match. Sadly, there is little left to stimulate her in a relationship that is barely a flicker.
In the office, Roberta attempts to blackmail her boss over the Mandy affair. Sara bursts in, grabs Roberta and throws her on the couch, preparing the viewer for the girl/girl sex to come. Skow’s camera dwarfs an astounded doctor by showing Roberta and Sara visually taller.
The women run the sex. Tom can watch, Sara concedes, but he can’t cum.
The girls will trade slaps, choking, and finger banging, ducking in and out of positions as dominants. Though they laugh with each other, they scowl at the doctor, humiliating him repeatedly.
A water cooler adjacent to the couch is a reminder that fluid will stay pent up in this scene. Before the water can run and wash away guilt as in Mandy’s fated bathtub, more must be resolved. In the end, the girls climax, Doctor Tom does not.
During the sex, Roberta lashes out, “You’re not doing anything to help me,” she says, taunting the doctor in the guise of Mandy’s ghost who hovers over the final scenes of the film.
Improvised camera work (a la Blair Witch Project) shows up here, but seems a bit out of place. At one point, a camera carelessly appears in the shot. Why that wasn’t edited out is a mystery.
Female revenge is the centerpiece of the dinner scene later at Hodgy’s house where Sara has invited Tom to join them.
At last, the layers of the three candles are revealed. Tom, Abby, and Mandy form a three-way fated relationship. Now Tom, Sara, and Hodgy are a trio with a different theme: revenge. In a oddly brief sex scene, they sit on a couch with Sara in the middle, repeating the dinner table arrangement where the emotionless distances between the characters is illustrated in beautiful camera work.
When the scene shifts to Tom bound to a chair, Roberta and Abby join Sara in an unholy trinity. They are the final version of the three candles: the Harpies, who in Greek mythology carry those responsible for the deaths of family members to the Furies for punishment.
As the film concludes, conflicts are muted after a cleansing outburst of Abby’s Freudian id, and most important, pictures appear on the walls to conquer sterile desolation. In the final scene, the serenity of boats in a harbor at sunset watch over Tom and Abby’s sexual reconciliation. Forgiveness is possible, after all.
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Sometimes when reviewing adult films, the story surpasses the sex. These Things is such a movie. In an industry that depends on the erotic to survive, it is unfortunate that good filmmakers like B Skow cannot spend more screen minutes developing their artistic storytelling talents and less on sex acts that can fall victim to repetition. Just a thought.