From the first moments of the methodical, slow piano chords, the panning camera moving across a painted wall of faux nature, I could tell Exotica would be a treat. A film shrouded in relative obscurity, unacceptable it may be that this hasn’t received a wider audience, this film somewhat forgotten by the mainstream is a desirable masterclass in story-oriented tension. Perhaps the seedy atmospheres and infrequency of solid supporting characters would turn away the more Hollywood-oriented heyday of movie-goer, but Exotica has within it such hidden brilliance, a stylish drama with all the usual connectors, but with such unexpected leaps and amazing performances, the largest components working with the smallest, most critical and crucial of details.
The trickling of talent in this film is seen in the moments that an average viewer wouldn’t care to credit. Mychael Danna’s music and Steven Munro’s sound design are, forgive the pun, instrumental in creating an accessibly beautiful and engaging story. Not just for the original score, but for their curation of Leonard Cohen’s masterclass Everybody Knows. I’m a sucker for Cohen at the best of times, but how Exotica adapts music to its layered storytelling is incredible. Non-diegetic sound used in necessary brilliance, giving us a great look into the broody nightclub that shares its name with the title of the film. An ensemble of interesting individuals certainly hover around the private dancers and the grim lobby, but we’ve no time to spend getting to know them, only the essentials are brought to us.
There are smatterings of influence from David Cronenberg, but director Atom Egoyan brings his own unique funk to this encroaching series of uniquely intense, but naturally played out events. A chance encounter between a pet store employee, Thomas (Don McKellar), and a troubled tax auditor, Francis (Bruce Greenwood), leads to some incredible scenes of intense passion, obsession, and chemistry. Fixation is at the heart of Exotica, not just of a man and his fascination with a stripper with her own troubles, but a focused pressure between the unlikely duo. Erratic characters and off the cuff decisions are drawn upon spectacularly, but there’s no necessity to see the actions through, and I do think that’s the strongest aspect Exotica has to play with, the desire and ability to take things to the extreme, but the realisation that such a story doesn’t need to.
An amazingly condensed interaction with detachment in a sexually charged environment, Exotica is a blurring of stories, all coming together with such incredible passion from Egoyan and his cast. Stupendous work, I’d never have expected this to be so compelling, yet so brief and fleeting in its description of events and characters. Rather primitive in brief pockets, where happenstance scenarios come together to form a larger, worthy narrative base, Exotica will have no trouble appealing to those of us who like to see the underbelly of society. The good men driven to dark or controversial deeds, that’s exactly what Egoyan captures here, and he does so with near-perfect results.