24 Exposures: Film Review

Genre outing is mostly for Swanberg devotees.

Joe Swanberg's quasi-stalker film stars a photographer obsessed with sex and violence.

MONTREAL — Prolific Mumblecorian Joe Swanberg, having dipped his toe in horror for the anthology V/H/S, gives the stalker pic a spin in 24 Exposures. The genre's friendliness to female nudity evidently wasn't enough for the filmmaker, who boosts the quotient of boobies (his term, folks) by making his hero an art photographer who specializes in violent sex fetish scenes. Sure to be overshadowed by his far more satisfying and commercial Drinking Buddies, this outing will please Swanberg's followers but lacks the polish required to attract a broader genre audience.

Filling his two male leads with filmmakers who've collaborated with him on V/H/S and You're Next, Swanberg introduces Adam Wingard as Billy, a photographer who spends his day making lithe young models look like suicides or victims of male attacks, and Simon Barrett as Mike, a police detective investigating an actual murder. Inviting the label "meta," the movie both weaves these two plots together, prompting viewers to ask whether we're looking at real or staged crime scenes, and takes pleasure in the fact that men who make violent entertainment in real life are engaged in the same thing here.

Those resonances would be more engaging if either man exhibited a knack for screen acting. As it happens, Barrett is wholly unbelievable as a lawman and Wingard, though he looks comfortable in Billy's self-indulgent artist's life, doesn't have the charisma to convince us of the photographer's off-set success with the women in his world.

Those women, and their frequent nakedness, are presumably the entire point of 24 Exposures, which plays like a 21st century indie take on 70s exploitation cinema. Billy has a devoted girlfriend (Caroline White) who's fine with the way he ogles other women in his photos, and even plays along in a threesome with new model Callie (Sophia Takal). Though she thinks of their relationship as monogamous, Billy flirts openly with attractive strangers like the black-eyed waitress Rebecca (Helen Rogers) -- who soon joins his circle of collaborators, much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend. When Alex is away, Billy has no qualms about bringing the breast-fondling, faux-lesbian play home when his photo shoot is done. Though his "seductive" gaze is as dopey as his unfashionable goatee, no young woman seems immune to his charms.

The thin stalker plot connecting these scenes feels perfunctory, with Swanberg offering a single POV shot of home invasion (whose consequences are never mentioned) and one quick moment of onscreen violence that is brushed away by a "six months later" coda leaving the fate of some central characters unresolved. Tech values (with the exception of the stylish opening credits) are on par with the bulk of Swanberg's oeuvre, which is to say that production speed was seemingly prioritized over most aesthetic concerns.

Production Company: Popfilms

Cast: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Helen Rogers, Caroline White, Sophia Takal

Director-Screenwriter: Joe Swanberg

Producers: Alexander Motlagh, Alex Orr

Director of photography: Adam Pinney

No rating, 77 minutes