DIRECTED BY Roger Avary
STARRING James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Kip Pardue
Opens March 28, Cert 18, 110 mins
Adapting Ellis is a mug’s game: you can’t win, right? Less Than Zero was too bland; Mary Harron’s American Psycho, a decent stab, was slammed for being macabre when in fact it played safe. Avary’s attempt at Ellis’ most underrated book is a blazing, belligerent, cynical, twisted, howlingly funny and grotesque movie which blows the roof off the sucker. It breaks all rules of narrative and taste, and boasts a raft of heroic performances from teen heart-throbs and Dawson’s Creek types whose careers may never recover. Van Der Beek, for one, deserves the keys to the universe for such self-damning fearlessness that he’s either the new Dennis Hopper or will flip burgers for the next decade.
What remains of the story beneath Avary’s deconstruction involves a bunch of jaded New England students doing drugs and each other. Sean Bateman (Van Der Beek) is bored, bisexual, exploitative. Paul (Somerhalder) secretly loves him, but once dated Lauren (Sossamon), who’s caught Sean’s eye. She’s carrying on with a sleazeball teacher (Eric Stoltz), while pining for Victor (Pardue), who’s on a debauched tour of Europe. Crawling through a sea of pharmaceuticals, they casually screw each other, and themselves, up. Big time.
Ellis buffs will know Victor’s later the star of Glamorama, while Sean’s brother Patrick is the “American Psycho”. Avary’s screenplay winks at such links while racing headlong into its own pit of darkness. “Emotional vampire” Sean hoovers through his nights, oblivious to his failings. “Since when did fucking someone else mean I wasn’t faithful to you?” he asks Lauren, aghast.
Cackling at such narcissism, the film’s not blind to the horrors of reckless youth. (Or age?Faye Dunaway’s a stoned mom). Pre-credits, there’s vomit and date-rape: Lauren’s trapped in a self-deluding cycle which a deadpan portrayal renders more poignant. It’s unflinchingly true to Ellis’ comic nihilism.
With tricks like backward loops and multiple POV storytelling, Avary’s an electric director. This is an astonishing film about the end of civilisation, or about just another party. It’s rock’n’roll. Deal with it.