From directors Mike McKown & Jim Towns of Robot Monkey Studios comes their 2010 effort STIFF. It tells the story of a lonely Caucasian male named Troy, depressed and suicidal. Stuck in a shitty job, and alone in the city, he’s looking for more of a human connection in his life rather than a way to end it all. He connects with a suicide crisis hot-line operator named Lorrie developing a relationship with someone he thinks will listen to his existential hiccups. When she’s one the other end of the phone Troy’s cry for help is heard, but when she’s fired and he reaches out again Lorrie’s not spooning out the same Chicken Soup for the Soul psychology that has enabled him to fall further into his lethargic existence. Lorrie soon makes a pact with Troy; she’ll help him end his life if she can have her way with his corpse. How did I get suckered into a love story with a female necrophiliac?
Soon Troy begins to question his motives for proceeding with his suicide and why Lorrie is so adamant in her beliefs. Seems she’s got a troubled past of her own filled with nightmares, bad memories, and Mommy issues. What could fuel a pseudo-functioning member of society to decide to fuck a dead person? The development of this core principle is left unexplored and discarded, much like Troy’s existence. One would think Troy would have been more adventurous with his last days as well. Leading up to this point his life isn’t one to be concerned about ending because he’s never really lived it. Meeting Lorrie is what spurs him to reevaluate his principles despite the glaring contradiction of scruples entangled within their agreement. Eventually everything proceeds as arranged and you realize the core ideal of this story; happiness eludes us all even when we think we have it cornered.
The film doesn’t glitz up it’s low budget genesis. It’s shot mostly in a single home residence and public spaces with minimal lighting. The camerawork is steady enough and offers a sense of fluidity between a whole hell of a lot of dialogue. The film relies on the steady pace of its editing to push the tempo along. The excitement you could imagine from the germination of this idea, of love birthed from suicide is smothered under poor acting from the cliche spitting cast. The dialogue comes at you like a book on tape. Lorrie seems like a bored house guest in her own life, coasting along dispensing nuggets of negative mysticism wrapped up like a piss stained Hallmark card. Her character is meant to have a dark clarity surrounding life, as she outreaches a noose tied olive branch for Troy to accept. He’s an Eeyore of a man, lost in the 100 Acre Woods of the Big City. He needs a a Tigger to shake up his world and instead we’re treated a Reader’s Digest version of Emily Strange. Lorrie puts forth her true designs for Troy. Instead of a psychological freak fest of shattered taboos like BOXING HELENA or LOLITA, it all plays out like Cinemax started making Lifetime Movies. It shies away from the gore and repulsion of necrophilia and addresses it as a planned and consensual arrangement between two adults. The act itself is presented as it would really happen, nudity and all, but shot in the way the Soccer Moms of the MPAA can’t protest too heavily. This isn’t a horror film by any stretch of the imagination, but the sins STIFF addresses are far more prevalent than the usually rallies against masked slashers. I’d be far more angry at the romantic comedy style approach the film seems to straddle in its advertising. That’s the only exploitation you’ll find in this whole film.
The biggest effort to carry this film is the acting. It’s like bad dinner theater without the benefit of food poisoning. The fact that this story is carried by only two characters shows the strength of this idea, however half incubated its delivery. Lorrie never truly seems vexed by her actions, her tenderness seems like crocodile tears and her predatory motives seem more eel like as she careens towards her carnal need. Another element that seems overlooked is the difference in age between these two star crossed lovers. It could have pushed even further into the dark recesses of forbidden love that HAROLD & MAUDE tiptoed around, adding another dynamic layer. Shot in Pittsburgh, the pools of acting talent run a bit more shallow than in Hollywood or New York and the leads are truly what makes the film suffer. The scenes of these talking heads drag on in almost the same voice, as if this whole endeavor was a fabrication of Troy’s mind. God, how I wish it was. Perhaps the shortened schedule for pre-production planned more of a factor than is let on, but the moments to expound on the such a sordid relationship between characters is crucial in telling the story. The sexual tension is never truly fanned to fuel the fire of what the filmmakers were hoping to burn on screen. The needed moments of connection and tenderness feel absent, rushed along without the profound impact of poor decisions made with misguided emotions.
The DVD offers a Director’s Commentary on the Special Features, a Behind the Scenes Featurette, and an Alternative Ending. The Feautrette offers a peek into how quickly this feature was shot and the large amount of effort that was poured into it, yet it’s interesting to see this divergance of subject matter from filmmakers that specialize mostly in horror.