A training-wheels mashup of “Rear Window” and any number of ’90s erotic thrillers, “The Voyeurs” regurgitates musty ideas for much of its limp 122-minute run time. The story of a Montreal couple who becomes unreasonably consumed with watching the randy across-the-street neighbors, writer-director Michael Mohan’s film plays like rehashed leftovers cooked up for young viewers who’ve never seen any of its superior inspirations. While a climactic twist provides it with some late personality of its own, it’s difficult to imagine it faring well against similar streaming-service genre offerings when it premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 10.
Moving into the kind of spacious loft that only 20-somethings in the movies can afford, optometrist Pippa (Sydney Sweeney) and boyfriend Thomas (Justice Smith) are a lovey-dovey pair whose relationship gets an extra kinky boost when they spy hunky photographer Seb (Ben Hardy) and alluring model Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) getting hot and heavy in the apartment across the way. Since Thomas is the sort of earnest good guy who falls asleep before his girlfriend can woo him in sexy lingerie, it’s only a matter of time before Pippa’s fascination with Seb and Julia turns to obsession. Binoculars are purchased for a closer view of the duo’s carnal romps, and then, a covert listening device (which involves lasers that cause windows to vibrate) is planted in the strangers’ flat, the better to enjoy the entire X-rated picture in surround sound.
What starts as a titillating diversion transforms into an increasingly disruptive situation thanks to screenwriting contrivances, beginning with Julia visiting Pippa’s place of work, asking her out to coffee and then taking her to a spa, where she’s completely comfortable opening up to (and disrobing in front of) Pippa. Knowing that Seb is a two-timing lout, Pippa is soon compelled to more actively interfere in a relationship that doesn’t concern her, leading to apparent tragedy and then further domestic strife between her and Thomas. All the while, Mohan delivers routine shots of eyes, and often cuts away from them to close-ups of eggs being sliced open so their yolk can spill out – sub-“Un Chien Andalou” symbolic images meant to underline the potential danger of sight.
Everything is obvious and ham-fisted in “The Voyeurs,” including Sweeney’s lead performance, marked by a bevy of wide-eyed looks of sensual excitement and unsettled concern. Mohan isn’t after subtlety but suspenseful passion, which he tries to drum up through the sort of considerable nudity that is the erotic thriller’s stock and trade. Still, there’s a dearth of actual steaminess generated by anyone in the cast, with Sweeney and Smith sharing no sparks, and Hardy proving far too bland and fresh-faced to get one’s pulse racing (either from terror or titillation). The script adheres to such a conventional playbook that Pippa’s eventual, reckless decision to directly interact with Seb — whom she both lusts for and fears — lands with a thud, coming off less like a daring surprise than a tedious cliché that should have been avoided from the get-go.
Though it largely seems interested in affirming a stodgy status quo — with Pippa punished for her transgressive desire, and forced to re-embrace conservative sexual/romantic paradigms — “The Voyeurs” does finally upend expectations through a reality-reconfiguring bombshell. That gesture goes a small way toward capturing the outrageous spirit of the film’s tawdry ’90s predecessors. Given the seriousness with which it’s handled, however, it falls short of interjecting real verve into this flaccid B-movie.