Written and directed by Bret Wood, who made a bit of a name for himself with Psychopathia Sexualis a couple of years ago and who directed the excellent Hell's Highway documentary, The Little Death is set in the Victorian era and begins when three young men, all friends, head into a brothel for an evening of entertainment courtesy of the lovely ladies employed there. The two eldest pair up with some prostitutes almost immediately, wasting no time and bound and determined to get their money's worth, while the third and youngest, Cyril (Clifton Guterman), is considerably more hesitant. Soon enough, he pairs off with a pretty young blonde named Lily (Christie Vozniack) who asks him to buy her a drink. He obliges, despite the fact that he doesn't have much money and the porter she enjoys are pretty expensive. When she asks for a second, Cyril heads over to interrupt his two friends, both in the heat of passion, hoping he can convince them to leave but his efforts are in vein.
He heads back to the bar and finds that the prostitute has vanished. While this is going on, a reformer bent on bringing a certain prostitute out of the brothel and back to proper society shows up. This woman, Eleanor Malchus (Courtney Patterson), is certain that the girl she is looking for is here and refuses to leave. She's brought to the private room of the man who runs the establishment and is told that she isn't here, while Cyril, understandably curious, tries to figure out just what is going on. The rest of the movie, as the packaging aptly puts it, a 'psychological game of cat and mouse' as our puritan heroine wrestles with her morals, Cyril with his curiosity and Lily with her very being.
At just seventy five minutes in length you'd think that The Little Death would go by quickly but the first half of the film drags a bit. Granted, some set up is required to get to the finale, and the finale does pay off, but the pacing of the beginning section of the film is its weakest aspect. Those who stick with it, however, will likely wind up fairly impressed with how all of this plays out. Wood's picture blends some bizarre sexual overtones with a few standard detective story/thriller elements and manages to make them work. Attention to period detail helps to set the mood, as the sets constructed for the movie really help to put us right there in the Victorian era with the characters as this all plays out. Nicely shot by director of photography Chris Tsambis and set to an appropriately quirky score by composer Paul Merger, the film transcends its modest budget and winds up looking and sounding quite lush. The ornate furniture of the brothel contrasts in interesting ways with the debauchery that goes on there and once the film takes its dark turn as it passes the half way mark, what at first seems classy and sexy soon turns rather sinister and more than just a little bit twisted.
Performances are pretty good across the board and if things are a little bit stagey at times, well, that makes sense as this was based on a play called Life And Death by Frank Wedekind, with liberal doses of Anton Checkov's short story A Nervous Breakdown mixed in for good measure. Had Wood done a little more to pull us in early one this would have rated higher but as it is, the pay off makes the slow pace of the first half more than worth it. Those who don't mind a slow burn and who appreciate a genuinely unexpected twist with some mild kink peppered throughout should give The Little Death a chance.
This movie was shot on digital video and so the transfer here is pretty clean, there are no print damage issues to note. Some mild compression artifacts pop up in the darker scenes but overall the 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer shows good detail and nice color reproduction. Some mild shimmering can be spotted if you're prone to looking for such things but overall this is a crisp, clean and nicely detailed image.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, there are no alternate language options offered up nor are there any subtitles provided. A 5.1 mix might have made a few scenes a little bit more lively but that's really the only complaint you can levy here. The dialogue stays clean and easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced. There are no issues at all with any hiss or distortion and all in all things sound just fine here.
Extras start off with a pretty interesting Behind The Scenes featurette in which the bulk of the cast and crew are interviewed about their work on this project. This offers up some insight into Wood's creative process as a writer and director and also shows us what it was like on the set of the movie while it was being made. Cast members chime in on their characters and their experiences here and some clips show the sets from a different angle allowing us to get a look at the technical side of the production.
Also included on the DVD is a seventeen minute short film entitled The Other Half that wood made a few years back in 2008 that follows a woman who goes to rather extreme measures to deal with the problems caused to her by her disabled husband, a man with a serious penchant for cruelty. It's worth watching and a nice companion piece to the feature. Rounding out the extras are a handful of deleted/extended scenes and a trailer for the movie.
Kino has done a nice job bringing this odd little film to DVD. At seventy five minutes it's on the short side, though some pacing issues hurt the opening half of the movie. With that said, the extra content helps to make up for the short running time of the feature and winds up adding some considerable value to this release. If you're in the mood for a different sort of thriller, this is one worth checking out and The Little Death comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.