Many films, such as 9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary, and Body of Evidence, have featured extreme sex. Typically, the issue with these films is, no matter how good or bad they are, the portrayal of sex in the movie becomes the focal point of any marketing, review, or discussion. Going Under is an independent film which features both an interesting story and a degree of kinky sex. Which piece will win out in the end?
Roger Rees stars in Going Under as Peter, a psychotherapist who is married and has a teenaged daughter. He also enjoys having sessions with a dominatrix named Mistress Diana (Geno Lechner). Peter has been seeing her for some time, and he's very excited when she suggests they see each other outside of her workplace. Peter's wife has left town to work on her latest novel and his daughter is traveling through Europe, so he jumps at the chance. When they meet for a drink, Peter learns that Diana's real name is Suzanne. They talk about their lives and their pasts, and Peter feels a real connection to Suzanne. Suzanne is clearly intrigued by Peter, but she has several issues keeping her from totally opening up to him. For one thing, she is in a relationship with a woman, Miko (Miho Nikaido). But, more importantly, because of her lifestyle, the idea of a "normal" relationship with a man frightens her.
Let's go ahead and file Going Under in the "Missed Opportunities" file, as the movie has a lot of good things going for it, but the overall result is unfulfilling. The movie attempts to go back and forth between Peter and Suzanne, telling the story of both characters. The issue here is that Suzanne's story is much more interesting than Peter's. Peter's tale may be lurid -- a married man who visits a dominatrix and has feelings for here -- but, it's also tidy and somewhat bland.
On the contrary, Suzanne is a ball of issues which don't get fully explored in the movie. We learn some about her parents and the treatment which she received from her mother. But, we don't learn much about Suzanne's relationship with Miko, other than the fact that they are lovers. Again, Suzanne's central issue in the film is her reluctance to pursue any sort of serious relationship with Peter, and the implied reason is that she doesn't know how to shift out of her dominatrix role. She clearly wants to be with Peter, after all, she actually suggested that they see each other, but she won't let herself take that step. Many people deal with bringing their work home with them, and Suzanne's example is an extreme one. Yet, the movie seems determined to make Peter the focus of the film and we never get inside Suzanne's mind.
Obviously, an important facet of this film is the sexuality. There are some graphic portrayals of S&M in the film, and the movie portrays many of the things which can transpire with a dominatrix. Yet, there's little nudity in the film, and it never approaches pornography. In fact, these scenes become quite tedious after a while. Halfway through the film, director Eric Werthman decides to begin inserting flashbacks to Peter and Diana's earlier sessions. These scenes really slow the film down, as we long to return to their story in the present. This gives an idea of the sluggish and questionable pacing of the film. Even at 96 minutes, the movie feels far too long, and the flashbacks push Suzanne's inevitable decision further away. Suspense turns to ennui and by the middle of the third act, most viewers will be bored stiff.
Going Under comes up on DVD courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks fairly good for a low-budget indie flick. The image is somewhat sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain. Colors are good and appear realistic. The image does show a touch of video noise in some scenes, and true artifacting in others. Close examination of the screen shows a subtle lack of detail.
The Going Under DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a dialogue-driven drama, the bulk of the audio comes from the center channel, but we do get a smattering of stereo effects and the occasional murmur from the rear speakers.
This DVD has a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from co-writer/director Eric Werthman and star Roger Rees. This is a serviceable chat as the two discuss the various facets of making the film. Rees talks about the hurdles involved in doing such a risque part, while Werthman discusses the logistics, such as locations and the script. "Pushing the Boundaries" (17 minutes) features interviews Rees and Geno Lechner, where they discuss their involvement in the film, and how challenges their roles were. We also get a 6-minute documentary on the "NYC Black and Blue Ball", an annual fetish event. The extras are rounded by the TEASER and THEATRICAL TRAILER for Going Under, both of which are 16 x 9.
I'm a proud member of Generation X and to me, Roger Rees will always be Robin Colcord from Cheers, so seeing him in a sex film is somewhat disturbing. Worse still is the fact that this could have been an engrossing prove into the psyche of a woman who is trapped in a role. Instead the movie wander around, looking for a central premise. Going Under is one film which deserves to be beaten.