“Love is a torture – love tortures me.”
When a 20-something literature student goes missing, her family enlists the help of a lesbian private detective named Jill (Susie Porter). As Jill begins to unravel the mystery behind the girl’s disappearance, she is thrust into the seedy world of … literature?! Is that right? It is? Okay. So, she’s thrust into this cut throat world where everyone has ulterior motives including the beautiful, dangerously alluring poetry professor Diana Maitland (Kelly McGillis). As Jill finds herself increasingly more attracted to Diana, will she be able to balance her duty with her desires?
I have been on the lookout for this Australian flick for years. Years. The bar is set pretty high when I finally find some quiet time to watch the film. And since I typically like to go into watching a film with few to no expectations, I’m a little anxious The Monkey’s Mask will not be able to live up to my preconceived silliness.
But … here we go.
Out of work personal investigator, Jill Fitzpatrick, is going out of her mind out in the boondocks, where she clearly has enough time to shave her armpits, but is confident enough not to. To this, I say more power to you. And to those who think women should shave everything except for miniature landing strips in our nethers, I say you probably shouldn’t focus on it as much as you are. You should print this picture and hang it somewhere you can slowly, over a period of time, desensitize yourself to it.
After all, Porter’s pits are pretty. Say that ten times fast.
She receives a call from a concerned mother and father whose daughter, an aspiring poetry student, Mickey (played here by Abbie Cornish) has gone missing. It’s back to the big city for Jill. And none too soon. Did I mention she’s going bonkers out there? All she does is drink and watch birds.
Birds. She’s only 28 for crying out loud and already she’s watching birds.
As Jill begins to piece together the events surrounding Mickey’s disappearance, she meets and subsequently develops a dangerous obsession with the girl’s poetry professor, Diana. Affluent, educated, refined, Diana is everything Jill is not. This simultaneously engages and repulses the private eye until, inevitably, the two women succumb to their shared attraction and fall into the sack together.
Right about now, I realize I am supposed to be watching a different film … right? Yes! <Insert forehead slap here> Jill’s supposed to be investigating the disappearance of a young girl – not what’s going on in Diana’s pants. No matter how intriguing Diana’s pants are, and believe me, some of the scenes between Fitzpatrick and McGillis are among the more erotic you’re apt to see, the film is about this girl who writes dirty (depending on your perspective) poems about men who have hurt her. The girl has gone missing and that’s what Jill has been hired to sort. We’ve gone and gotten ourselves just as distracted as Jill. No wonder she’s been out of work.
Skip to Mickey’s parent’s house where, unfortunately, the news is all bad. Mickey’s been found … dead. Oops. Talk about an epic fail on Jill’s behalf. Okay, well, no matter. The parents still want to know who did it. And they want Jill to find out. They want the name, and don’t tell the cops. Nothing to be suspicious about here.
So, back on the case, and on Diana, Jill continues to interview a virtual compendium of famous poets as she tries vainly to hash out the final moments of Mickey’s life.
As things become more heated between Jill and Diana, it comes to light Diana is married. She is married and her husband, Nick (played by the dishy Marton Csokas) is very much interested in Jill, and not at all bothered by her investigation into his wife’s pants. Jill and Nick form a very oddly comfortable relationship that, as the film draws to its final conclusion, becomes deliciously and dangerously (over)heated as well.
The film is a bit noir-ish, but over lit with none of the shadow play you might expect with the genre. Susie Porter is a delight to watch as the lesbian private eye whose moral compass and anchor fail her at every turn except when it matters most. Her portrayal of Jill presents a flawed, affable character for whom you find yourself routing despite her shoddy detective work. After all, she was a bit preoccupied with getting lucky.
McGillis, who can be seen in the semi-recent indie horror film The Innkeepers, is in good form here, and I’m not just saying that with my tongue in my cheek. Although, she is … in good form. McGillis is almost as bewitchingly dangerous in The Monkey’s Mask as Sharon Stone is in Basic Instinct, and fearless. It is effortless being drawn in by her character, and you may feel equally as hurt when she finally pushes Jill away.
The Monkey’s Mask delivers despite its deliberate pacing, but will leave you feeling as though the plot was just an excuse to film the explicit scenes between Porter and McGillis.
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