Albert (Jon Wachter) works at night in a squalid little hot dog vending stall on the seamier side of Manhattan. He's a little dim-witted, but even he show know better than to pick his nose over the food he's preparing, have a wank while there are no customers or retrieve sausages that have fallen onto the filthy floor and attempt to sell them on.
Alas, these are precisely the type of things he does - not to mention taking a piss out the back of his stall and then continuing to serve food to punters without caring to wash his hands in-between duties.
One customer who's not remotely perturbed by Albert's lack of hygiene (or lack of gumption, for that matter) is Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos), a swarthy art photographer who wastes no time in offering Albert a modelling job. He offers the simpleton his business card.
Albert is initially sceptical - after all, he has a job ... right? - but, after watching helplessly as the object of his desires, good pal Lexy (Adrienne Gori), gets chatted up by a would-be photographer, he has a change of heart and gives Ivan a call.
Arriving the following day at Ivan's apartment photo studio, a bewildered Albert is introduced to assistants Nancy (Karah Serine) and Jackie (Kathy Biehl) while Ivan sets up his camera and voluptuous model Sarah (Tina Tanzer) prepares herself for the shoot.
What follows, under Ivan's direction, is the photographer's perception of what constitutes "art": he gets a clearly awkward Albert to cavort with the scantily clad Sarah, before encouraging him to place a plastic bag over her head and simulate asphyxiating her.
Ivan pays Albert well for his services, secretly plotting to exploit his naive new employee in a series of provocative photo shoots. Albert, however, feels short-changed: he wants to learn the craft of photography for himself and had hoped Ivan would act as his mentor. In order to keep Albert coming back for more modelling gigs, Ivan reluctantly agrees to do just that - and even passes on his first ever Polaroid camera for the hotdog salesman to toy with.
When Ivan is called away on business abroad, Albert seizes the opportunity to make use of his boss's empty studio and invite a prostitute (Teena Byrd) there in the hope of photographing her in a variety of kinky poses.
Alas, Albert's mind has been polluted by years of isolation, his unrequited love for Lexy, the sexually violent photo shoots Ivan has subjected him to, and an anger he feels at being exploited by his mentor. Consequently, all does not go according to plan...
BAG BOY LOVER BOY (Ivan explains the title during a telephone conversation with one potential financier in the film) does a fine job of visually echoing New York in more squalid times, harking to films such as THE DRILLER KILLER and MANIAC in its successful evocation of the grime, crime and sleaze prevalent during its grindhouse heyday. Kudos to cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano and production designer Rocio Gimenez for summoning such a stylish, yet paradoxically documentary-like, feel of the streets.
Elsewhere, director Andres Torres and his co-writer Toni Comas have a good time poking fun at the city's portentous art scene, with Ivan's cliched mantras on a model's motivation and his work's political subtext coming across as particularly acerbic. The screenplay is laced with humour throughout, often very amusingly so, but retains a dark edge at all times.
The rudimentary electronic keyboard score and array of oddball characters combine with the seedy settings to draw comparisons with THE GREASY STRANGLER. BAG BOY LOVER BOY isn't quite as deranged or overtly comical as that minor masterpiece, but does possess its own fair share of craziness.
There's a set-piece scene, for example, in which Albert is covered in fake blood for a photo shoot, and pitted against a topless model who's been painted pink and lumbered with a plastic snout in a bid to make her resemble a pig. She doesn't understand why she's been put in this position, but as Ivan and Jackie soon remind her: "because you're being paid to do it".
Which brings us to another of the film's themes: greed and/or exploitation, American-style. From the off, we're subjected to close-up shots of America's favourite junk food, the hotdog, in a series of unflattering poses (being scraped off a dirty floor; getting rammed into a full open mouth; being devoured by a wild rat, etc). One of Albert's customers voraciously gobbles down a burger of dubious origins, wanting only to be assured that the unidentifiable meat in his mouth is American. Ivan's exploitation of the slow-witted Albert, and the latter's subsequent foray into murderous delirium, brought on by his own fascination with unattainable porn pin-ups and perverse dreams provoked by his photo shoot experiences, sums up the queasy hand-to-mouth nature of the American media industry rather well I thought.
Shot on HD cameras and benefitting from Charlie Williams' excellent, taut editing, BAG BOY LOVER BOY is an arty, stylised, surprisingly well-made low-budget fusion of dark comedy and disturbing horror. It manages to shock without being overly graphic (a black-and-white dream sequence contains some fairly graphic nudity; violence is sparse but used wisely). The film's real asset, however, is its cast: performances are superb across the board, especially from the Wachter and Bouloukos. The former makes for a highly convincing dead-eyed ticking timebomb; the latter shrewdly avoids overplaying what could've been a megalomaniacal role, instead imbuing his character with just the right amount of faux sincerity to emerge as being highly plausible.
All in all, BAG BOY LOVER BOY was a most pleasant surprise: a well-crafted, beautifully acted oddity with enough strengths on both sides to entertain both the arthouse and grindhouse brigades.
The film comes to US blu-ray in region-free form, courtesy of Severin Films.
Presented uncut and as an MPEG4-AVC file on a BD25 disc, the 1080p HD presentation is a highly gratifying one. Colours are strong, a grainy texture complements the aura of seediness, and blacks remain strong throughout.
English 2.0 stereo audio is clean and clear for the duration of playback, while optional English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing. These are well-written and easy to read at all times.
An animated main menu page contains pop-up menus, which include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
An interesting, fluid audio commentary track kicks off some welcome extra features. Torres is joined by Bouloukos and editor Williams. Anecdotes about shooting on location are endlessly fascinating, while Torres is generous with the sharing of the film's themes.
Next up we have two short films made by Wachter when he was a film student.
The first, GOT LIGHT? is a gritty 82-second endeavour, proffering hints of sex and violence in a distinctly "war of the sexes" style a la the Cinema of Aggression. Shot in black-and-white, this is a satisfyingly grainy HD presentation. There is no audio to accompany the pillar-boxed 1.33:1 picture.
THE NEVER-STARTING STORY is even shorter and less eventful, at just 73 seconds in length. Like its predecessor, it's a lo-fi monochrome affair with a cheeky sense of humour. That dry comic streak carries over to the commentary from Wachter provided over this short. Interestingly, he really does sound the same in real life as he does in the main feature.
Finally we're treated to BAG BOY LOVER BOY's original trailer. 2-and-a-half minutes long, this HD offering serves up a good mix of plot and tone: it's an engaging and, crucially, honest portrayal of the film it's attempting to sell.
A great modern genre film, on a sterling disc. Highly recommended.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severin Films|