Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Josh Lawson

Stars: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Patrick Brammal, Kate Box, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kym Gyngell, T J Power, Erin James, Lachy Hulme, Zoe Carides, Ben Lawson.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about sexual fetishes but were afraid to ask.

The Little Death is an assured and accomplished directorial debut from actor Josh Lawson (Any Questions For Ben?, Anchorman 2, tv series House Of Lies, etc), and it actually succeeds where most other locally made comedies fail and fall flat. The Little Death is actually very funny.

The title is a slang term for orgasm, and this wonderfully subversive comedy follows a number of couples who try to spice up their relationships with some bizarre sexual fantasies. Lawson explores these taboo kinky fetishes with ribald abandon and a healthy curiosity, and he pushes the envelope at times. He mixes some uncomfortable moments that will have you squirming in your seats with black humour and genuine, laugh out moments. Lawson was inspired by a dinner party conversation, and from that spark of inspiration he began researching a number of illicit but legal sexual fantasies that provide the starting point for the film.

Each couple is introduced by an intertitle that informs us of their individual fetish, although the film is uneven and some stories are stronger then others.

Maeve (Bojana Novakovic, from The Burning Man, etc) wants her commitment phobic boyfriend Paul (Lawson himself) to rape her, a controversial fantasy that is apparently shared by a lot of women. However, Paul’s attempts to please Maeve and deliver on her fantasy have some unexpected and embarrassing consequences. This segment has proved to be quite controversial, prompting outraged walkouts at some screenings.

Rowena (Kate Box, from Rake, Offspring, etc) and Richard (Patrick Brammall, from Offspring, Upper Middle Bogan, etc) are trying to have a child, but without much success, until she discovers that she can achieve orgasm if she has sex while her husband is crying, a rare fetish known as dacryphilia. She devises some elaborate plans to ensure that she reduces Richard to tears, but her plans quickly go awry with often amusing consequences.

At the advice of their marriage counsellor, Dane (Damon Herriman, from 100 Bloody Acres, tv series Justified, etc) and Evie (Kate Mulvany, from Griff The Invisible, etc) attempt to spice up their sex lives through some role playing, with Dane filming their various interactions. But this quickly gets out of hand as Dane begins to take his role as director far too seriously and goes completely over the top in creating various scenarios.

And in the least engaging and somewhat creepy narrative strand, Phil (Alan Dukes, who played Wayne Swan in the tv spoof At Home With Julia, etc) discovers that he has more pleasure in cuddling his shrewish wife Maureen (Lisa McCune, from Blue Heelers, etc) while she is unconscious. He starts drugging her coffee nightly, and rekindles the lost intimacy of their marriage.

A running joke that acts as a link between the various narrative strands features Kym Gyngells’ character Steve, who has newly arrived in the area. By law he is introducing himself to his neighbours with cookies, and informing them that he is a registered sex offender. But he seems to arrive at the most inopportune and awkward moments, and his remarks fall largely on deaf or disinterested ears.

But for me the standout story here centres around Monica and Sam. Monica (Erin James, making her film debut here) volunteers at a telephone relay centre for the deaf, where she connects and translates calls using sign language. One night she is contacted by Sam (T J Power, from Underbelly, etc), a lonely graphic artist who wants to have phone sex with a prostitute. Monica is initially uncomfortable with translating the frank conversation, but this slowly gives way to a feeling of compassion and warmth and we feel a strong bond and palpable connection develop between the two. As Humphrey Bogart might have put it: “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Here raunchy humour is tempered with sensitivity, and this story, which seems to have little connection to the rest of the film, is ultimately sweet and touching. This little story could well do well as a stand alone short film.

The Little Death is an assured debut for Lawson, who has created some wonderfully flawed characters, who he treats with sensitivity and compassion. He moves between the various strands easily, establishing a nice rhythm to the piece. There is also a great soundtrack that underscores some of the emotional moments. And it helps that he has been able to assemble a strong ensemble cast who develop a good rapport.

This is shaping up to be a good year for local films, and The Little Death is a standout amongst a strong field of releases. It thoroughly deserves the accolades it has been gathering through screenings at various film festivals around the world.



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