'Sex Doll': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Films

A high-rent prostitute becomes romantically involved with a man harboring a secret in Sylvie Verheyde's erotic thriller.

Depending on your perspective, the fact that the title of Sylvie Verheyde’s thriller is the least salacious thing about it will be either a plus or a minus. But while the film’s non-exploitative approach is to be admired, this tale about a French prostitute who becomes romantically involved with a mysterious stranger is far too lackadaisical in its pacing and narrative style. Too self-consciously arty to appeal to the prurient crowd and lacking sufficient substance for cinephiles, Sex Doll seems to deflate while you watch it.

Cesar Award-winner Hafsia Herzi (The Secret of the Grain) plays the central role of Virginie, a beautiful, high-priced call girl plying her trade in London. Her protective madam (Karole Rocher) has one unbreakable rule for her employees, which is that they not become emotionally attached to their clients. That’s not a problem for the chicly black-clad Virginie, whose lack of enthusiasm for her job is clearly evident by her bored, detached facial expression as she services the men in a series of sex scenes that have an anti-aphrodisiac effect.

Virginie’s natural reserve melts when she meets Rupert (male model Ash Stymest, making his film debut), a handsome, heavily tattooed Brit who has followed her into a nightclub. The two soon begin a romantic relationship, but it turns out that her new lover has a secret. His vocation is rescuing young women from the sex trade world (now there’s a job for which there would be no shortage of applicants), but his mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling in love.

Despite its provocative premise, Sex Doll proves insufficiently interesting in both its characterizations and storyline, with the filmmaker’s stylized, slow-burn approach resulting in long stretches of tedium. The lead performers deliver faultless performances, and are certainly not tough on the eyes. But their efforts are not enough to lift this moody erotic thriller above its pretensions.  

Production companies: The Bureau, Les Films du Veyrier
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Hafisa Herzi, Ash Stymest, Karole Rocher, Paul Hamy, Ira Max, Lindsay Karamao
Director-screenwriter: Sylvie Verheyde
Producers: Bruno Berthemy, Bertrand Faivre, Soledad Gatti-Pascual
Director of photography: Nicolas Gaurin
Production designer: Beck Rainford
Editor: Christel Dewynter
Costume designer: Emma Rees
Composer: Nousdeuxtheband
Casting: Kharmel Cochrane

104 minutes

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