‘Blood Orange’: Film Review

BLOOD ORANGE Still Publicity 1 H 2016
Courtesy of Lightworks Film
Orange is not the new noir.

Iggy Pop makes his starring debut in this indie thriller as a dying rock star caught in a web of sex, blackmail and murder.

Face like an Easter Island statue, body like a fossilized tree, voice like the engine growl of a vintage gas-guzzling muscle car: Iggy Pop may not be a natural actor, but he oozes craggy charisma in his first starring role. Grizzled and tanned, the 69-year-old rocker plays an aging musical outlaw in Blood Orange, a noir-tinged sex-and-murder thriller from British first-time writer-director Toby Tobias, who has a background in advertising and music videos.

Blood Orange exhibits many of the flaws and limitations of a debut feature. But Pop’s stunt casting should give it cult appeal in theaters and, more likely, on home formats. With his latest album and tour gathering rave reviews and Jim Jarmusch’s Cannes-launched documentary about Pop's legendary band The Stooges coming soon, the veteran rocker’s current career resurgence should help the film’s modest prospects as it bows in a limited U.K. release. Philadelphia-based indie distributor Invincible has picked up U.S. rights.

Feeling almost like a filmed stage play, the single compact location is a luxury modernist villa perched high in the rocky hills over the Spanish island of Ibiza, though the precise geographical setting is never specified. Bill (Pop) is a terminally ill American musician living with his gorgeous young trophy wife, Isabelle (British TV star Kacey Barnfield), a bohemian arrangement which gives her leeway to demand sexual services from their hunky Spanish pool boy David (Antonio Magro) with Bill’s full knowledge. “I’m not jealous,” he croaks, “I don’t have to like the handsome little shit.”

This unorthodox ménage-a-trois becomes a volatile foursome with the arrival of Lucas (Ben Lamb), the grown-up son of Isabelle’s wealthy first husband. Cruelly cut out of his late father’s will, the upper-class Lucas is threatening a legal challenge to strip his wicked stepmother of the money. With a certain hokey B-movie inevitably, the pair are also ex-lovers, adding an erotic frisson to the growing tensions at the villa. But this psychological battle of wills soon takes a dark turn into sexual assault, blackmail and murder, with each of the main players seemingly harboring secret agendas.

Stilted and stagey in places, Blood Orange is more self-conscious homage to vintage film noir than a fully rounded addition to the genre. There are echoes of Roman Polanski, Sam Peckinpah and Patricia Highsmith in these seductively amoral characters and their sexualized power games. Sergio Leone’s Spanish-shot spaghetti Westerns also exert an influence, notably in scenes of Pop wandering the parched sierra in cowboy hat and stubble, coolly blasting rabbits with a shotgun.  

The characters, likewise, feel like two-dimensional copies of ancient screen archetypes. Pop is essentially playing himself, but his leathery Jurassic features and mud-caked baritone growl feel like pleasing throwbacks to the old-school cool of laconic Hollywood tough guys like Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. And at least Isabelle is afforded glimmers of tender humanity amidst her pathological femme fatale shtick, though Barnfield still spends much of the film naked for the benefit of drooling men, both on- and off-screen. For male-written female-fantasy figures, the line between empowerment and exploitation is often a fuzzy one.

Tobias makes a competent effort with his first feature, but falls far short of the sizzling Sexy Beast remake he seems to have in mind. Low-cost, single-set thrillers like this depend on a strong script, escalating suspense and shock revelations to hold audience interest. Blood Orange is not sharply written or original enough to reinvent creaky genre conventions, though it does have a certain schlocky allure, while the macabre final act delivers some audacious twists and reverses. On cool-headed reflection, this deranged denouement is laughably implausible, but the journey to get here is paved with guilty pleasures.

Production companies: Lightworks Film, Carnaby International
Cast: Iggy Pop, Kacey Barnfield, Ben Lamb, Antonio Magro
Director-screenwriter: Toby Tobias
Producers: Chris Bunyan, Gary Sangha, Toby Tobias
Cinematographer: Mark Patten
Editor: Alex Martin
Music: Walter Mair, Tim Arnold

Rated 15 (U.K.), 83 minutes