Monday, March 19, 2018

WILD THINGS: 20 Years Later

by Adam Riske
Watch it with a couple of acquaintances. See what happens.

I saw Wild Things opening weekend in March 1998. I was 15 years old. It was an important movie to me. My high school friends and I were whipped into a frenzy in anticipation of its lurid thrills. I remember after we saw the movie, we were in my friend’s car and he decided to play a game I’ll now call “Wild Things! No red lights!” where he made a right turn at any red light, then pulled a U-turn, followed by another right turn to beat every red. He even cut through a gas station at one point. We were pumped. Sure, there were other “hot” movies in the ‘90s, but this was “our hot movie.” It had Sidney Prescott and Denise “Fleet” Richards getting it on. It was an important movie to me. I was 15 years old. None of us had girlfriends.
Up until this past weekend, it had been maybe 19 years since I had seen Wild Things. Thankfully, it’s a different experience to me at 35 years old. I have grown up and calmed down. It’s a movie that’s a little #problematic in 2018. It uses the serious crime of rape as a plot device. It certainly has male gaze problems. If that were to step on anyone’s enjoyment of the movie, that’s 100 percent understandable. On re-watch, I was amused in a couple of ways. One, it’s a funny movie and one of the most entertaining noir thrillers I’ve seen, twisting its characters every act and throwing our allegiances into haywire. Second, it’s a movie that I think was meant to trick a person like 15-year-old me. Director John McNaughton is basically saying “Ok, you little shit, you want a late-night Cinemax sex movie? How about a clever, well-written thriller?” Another thing that struck me on this watch was how much fun the actors are having. They know the movie they are in is trash, but that’s not going to stop them from giving 100 percent and making Wild Things better than it should be. It’s a positive troll.
In 1998, I was most excited about Wild Things because I was in peak Neve Campbell crush mode. Hers might be my least favorite performance in the film now (which I feel bad saying, because I’ve met her at a convention and she was nice) but that’s mostly because she has the most mysterious role in the end. She has to play different fronts to different characters and a lot of the ticks she adopts are to make her seem all “eh..uh..guh..DON’T TOUCH ME!” when she’s really (SPOILER) the film’s ultimate criminal mastermind. As for the other performances, this might be my favorite Denise Richards performance. I can’t tell if she feels less wooden here than usual or if her not-great-actingness is perfect for the role she’s playing. Whatever it is, it works. Matt Dillon is perfectly cast as a ‘50s greaser turned Glades guidance counselor who is a scumbug masked in polo shirts. He’s a good bad guy because no matter the movie, he just looks like the kind of asshole who would trip you and then call you “champ” as he kicks you in the ribs and high fives his friend, Jimbo. Kevin Bacon is fun. He’s an actor I love seeing on-screen and it’s awesome he has a part here were he can do his stoic thing and then gear-shift into creepy Bacon. Plus, you see his dick so…equality? I remember in the theater my friends and I were not happy about that moment (we were like “OH! NO!”) but now I’m like “It’s an A-lister. It would be rude not to look.” The secret weapon of Wild Things is Bill Murray as Dillon’s lawyer, who also has ulterior motives. It’s the tone he sets that allows Wild Things to take on an extra layer of play it might not have otherwise had. I can easily see Wild Things following the usual noir beats, being self-serious/mean-spirited, but none of that heaviness comes across because Murray pops up and cues the audience that they’re meant to sit back and have a good time.
One of my favorite aspects of going back to write about movies 20 years later is to see them through new eyes. I like selecting the films that existed in their weekend, their month, but not much longer because that’s where you’re more likely to find hidden gems and recall nostalgic memories as opposed to favorites you may have built a history with in the subsequent years. Wild Things has been one of the most pleasant revisits for me to date. It’s even better than I remember. Also, this movie was one of the early DVDs back when Columbia Pictures was still making Full Screen/Pan & Scan copies of their films. Watching Wild Things this way was a nightmare (so many zooms, so many tracking swipes, that gaudy Mandalay Pictures logo I thought I’d never have to see again) but it also gave this viewing an extra nostalgic charm I’m glad to have experienced.

Note: The end credits to this film > any Marvel credits scene ever. Can we have a Wild Things cinematic universe?

14 comments:

  1. This article has me tempted to revisit but being a completist that means I would then have to watch Wild Things 2 (2004), Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough (2005) and Wild Things: Foursome (2010), which I don't know if I have the stamina anymore to handle all that "Wildness".

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    1. I never continued past the first one. They came out during my non-theatrical movie bias era (era) and I never was motivated enough to back track. Are they worth watching?

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    2. Oh, I have no clue as I'm the same and never got past the first one. My guess though is they are definitely worth watching! I'm a sucker for bad sequels to 90's yuppie fear thrillers.

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    3. I have seen most if not all of the sequels. They are unwatchable. They're all just remakes of the first with increasingly diminishing returns. They exist to have actors pretend to have a threesome, until the fourth one when they pretend to have a foursome.

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    4. I take it back, Adam. These do not sound like they're worth watching. Sounds like hours of torture, actually.

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    5. I've seen Diamonds in the Rough. I can confirm that it is, indeed, shit.

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    6. I'm mostly intrigued by WT2 cause... Susan Ward. Also, you guys know I legitimately like a lot of "shit". :)

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    7. I thought the exact same thing before watching WT2. There are better Susan Ward movies.

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  2. If anyone ever had a foursome, they better go right to IHOP afterwards and say to the other people " Can you believe that just happened?"

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    1. Haha! Maybe best to hit up the minute clinic on the way to get pancakes.

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  3. Watched this for the first time last year. It was really fun and something I would probably come back to later.

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  4. First time i saw this, i didn't care for it. About a year ago i saw a comment here about the movie that it was good and very underrated. The very next day, i see the blu-ray at the used dvd store for about 5$. Well, it was a sign. Bought it, watched it, loved it. Then i tried to have my friend watch it, but they looked at me like i was an alien, so i gave up

    The sequels can't be anythong else than versions of this, without getting what made it great

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