So why did the genre fall away so dramatically?
“That’s a million-dollar question,” says Mohan. “I think the last proper erotic thriller was Unfaithful in 2002, which was nominated for an Oscar and made $US120 million at the [global] box office, so it’s actually a complete mystery to me why they ceased to exist.
“All I know is that every time I watch them, it really feels like healthy junk food. Because they’re so easy to watch and the good ones do sneak in these complex themes and complex relationships.”
With The Voyeurs, and the eye-opening success of risque Netflix offerings including 365 Days and Sex/Life – even Adrian Lyne is releasing his first new film since Unfaithful next year, starring former lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas – the genre appears primed for an overdue renaissance, amid the increased risk-taking of the streaming wars and a wider societal frankness around discussions of sexual identity.
Mohan says the age of the “intimacy co-ordinator” – the post-#MeToo insistence of an on-set advisor who ensures actors are comfortable during sex scenes – has also made such films a less loaded proposition. (Hollywood is filled with stories of actresses regretting their on-set treatment around sex scenes – earlier this year, for example, Sharon Stone revealed she’d been “tricked” into appearing without her underpants in Basic Instinct’s infamous interrogation scene.)
“I think, as an audience member in 2021, your ability to enjoy a sex scene hinges on the fact that you know the actors participating really did have a say and agency over it,” says Mohan.
On The Voyeurs he worked with intimacy co-ordinator Amanda Blumenthal, a pioneer in the field who has worked on TV shows including Euphoria, The Affair, and The White Lotus.
“It was great – because, as a director, my greatest fear is if an actor were to regret any decisions made during my shoot,” says Mohan. He says that no matter how much he might work to diffuse it, there is a “power dynamic between a director and an actor, because actors want to make directors happy”.
“An intimacy co-ordinator takes that power dynamic out of the equation,” he says. “I communicate my vision to the intimacy co-ordinator and she goes off with each actor individually and is able to have a private conversation where they talk about, ‘Okay, this is the part of my body I never want anybody to film, this is the part of my body where I’m okay if the other actors touch, I’m not okay if they touch here…’ – things like that.
“Meanwhile I’ve worked out the shot design with my cinematographer to do the scene in as few takes as possible, and so expectations are set, boundaries are drawn, and then on the day Amanda makes sure everybody has a breath mint,” he laughs.
“The whole reason this movie is so steamy is because of the work she’s done to make sure every actor has felt respected. Because once they know what those boundaries are, they can deliver a performance and they’re not thinking about all the things they can and can’t do.”
Mohan hopes The Voyeurs can contribute to the genre’s wider resurrection.
“I just want to see more of these movies – more of these movies directed by women, more of these movies directed by people of colour. This is a genre where there’s so much untapped potential, especially with modern themes,” he says. “I mean, every single one of those classics can be updated, and I’m here for it.”
The Voyeurs is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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