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Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Wild Things

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 1998 at 12:00 AM

One certainty at the start of director John McNaughton's thriller Wild Things is that someone in this tawdry mess is guilty of something.

Guidance counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is giving a lecture on sex crimes to an auditorium of Blue Bay high schoolers, when misfit Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell) jumps from her chair, rails aloud at Sam and walks out. Sam is a big hit with the ladies, but the taint from his checkered past threatens to spill into the high school arena. Plus the swamp-ridden enclave has its share of debauchery, and the debs are hot and frisky. When a grieving Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards) comes forth claiming that Sam has sexually assaulted her, twists unfold around her case with startling momentum.

A daunting scandal arises, with a mess of personal interests spiraling around Sam's nearing trial. A pair of studious detectives (Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega) uncover a teeming hive of twists and abuses. Suzie comes out saying that Sam assaulted her too -- giving ample explanation for long nights spent alone in her bungalow.

The main focus of the camera in Wild Things is on sex. The distinctive McNaughton (whose previous films include Mad Dog and Glory and the cult classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) prods the audience's collective id with loads of agreeable shots -- of prancing cheerleaders, the intimately attached Suzie and Denise in counsel, and obsessively highlit bodies of water. Almost fashionably, noir seems to be a chief influence here, but with Wild Things, McNaughton does a superb job of reviving the genre's social function. The film is charged with wickedly taboo, even transgressive moments that will shock and dismay many (including Kevin Bacon in a career-baring turnaround).

With an ingenious script by Stephen Peters, Wild Things titillates and thrills to a practically guilty excess. McNaughton does us a favor by not glazing over the character of these vicious Blue Bay brats.

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