A quintessentially 1990s Canadian serial killer drama that frankly isn’t very good. Pivoting on Gen-X angst, its overall vibe is summed up by the poster tagline “Welcome to Love in the 90’s,” and also its trailer, which concludes with the line “Because life’s a bitch, and then you die.”
The director of LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS (1993) was Quebec’s sometimes-great Denys Arcand, a veteran of the Canadian film scene who was coming off his two finest-ever films: THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE (1986) and JESUS OF MONTREAL (1989). LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS, based on the play UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND THE NATURE OF LOVE by Brad Fraser, was taken on by Arcand after the collapse of a far more personal and ambitious film project. The film was released in much of the world in a 100 minute English language version (the one under review here) with minimal success, but it also exists in a longer French language version that is said to be even less watchable.
It all centers on the thirtyish David, a former television actor who currently works in a “more artistically satisfying” occupation: he’s a waiter in a swank Toronto restaurant. He lives with Candy, a book reviewer David once dated—even though he’s gay—and hangs around with, and sometimes assists, a psychic dominatrix named Bonita. Candy, for her part, is still in love with David, and lives in a state of constant frustration. Also afoot in the area is a serial killer who’s mutilated several young women.
Candy meets Jerri, a lesbian schoolteacher, in a gym. Jerri pursues Candy quite aggressively, inspiring her to consider lesbianism. David, meanwhile, gloms onto Kane, a teenage busboy David takes to be serviced by Bonita…and the killer claims more victims.
Candy allows herself to be seduced by Jerri, but finds the experience unsatisfying. David isn’t doing much better, and is shocked at seeing Kane out with a girl. For that transgression David humiliates Kane by having him bare his ass to him, only to abruptly walk out.
Candy takes up with the studly womanizer Robert, who she allows to have sex with her condom-less. She decides she’s in love with Robert, not noticing certain warning signs, such as the earrings littering his floor (stolen earrings, FYI, are the serial killer’s MO). Further bad news arrives in the form of a phone call from one of David’s former lovers confessing that he’s HIV positive. David attempts to assuage his upset by visiting Bonita, who senses something really bad is about to happen–and indeed she’s right!
Denys Arcand deserves credit for creating such an unpredictable, genre-twisting film, even if it is far too clever and self-satisfied for its own good (sample dialogue exchange: “My friends are homosexual.” “So are mine but I’m not a lesbian!”). Arcand was evidently trying to capture the zeitgeist in the manner of early-nineties Canadian dramas like Atom Egoyan’s EXOTICA and Charles Biname’s ELDORADO, but was far less successful.
The fact that the two protagonists are both thoroughly vile and unpleasant individuals is a problem. The film further suffers from by-the-numbers shock scenes that fail to shock; Arcand apparently pared the serial killer business down considerably from Brad Fraser’s original play and script, to the point that it often seems incidental to the main story. The erotic aspects aren’t much better, with (for instance) the pointed intercutting between Candy getting it on with Jerri and Thomas’ exploits in a nightclub registering as plain annoying.
There are some on-target scenes here and there, most notably a climactic one in which Candy deliberately embarrasses David by trying on provocative outfits for Kane. Also impressive is the photography by Paul Sarossy, which has a pleasingly dark, sensuous sheen that favorably recalls his work on (much better) films like EXOTICA, THE SWEET HEREAFTER and AFFLICTION.
Of the actors, Mia Kirshner fares the best. Kirshner has come to specialize in quirky sex goddess roles (in EXOTICA, NEW BEST FRIEND, THE L WORD, etc), of which her turn as Bonita the psychic dominatrix is a standout example.
LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS
Max Films/Atlantis Films
Director: Denys Arcand
Producer: Roger Frappier
Screenplay: Brad Fraser
Cinematography: Paul Sarossy
Editing: Alain Baril
Cast: Thomas Gibson, Ruth Marshall, Cameron Bancroft, Mia Kirshner, Joanna Vannicola, Matthew Ferguson, Rick Roberts, Aidan Devine, Robert Higden, Sylvain Morin, Ben Watt, Karen Young, Serge Houde, Alex Wylding, Polly Shannon