Goddess of Love (2015)

First published by TwitchFilm

“You have to keep it all in fantasy,” Chanel (Monda Scott) advises new pole/lap dancer Venus (Alexis Kendra). “You just have to be dripping with sex.”

Chanel (not her real name) is instructing the novice in how best to fleece male clients of their money, but in fact it is love that Venus, in keeping with her all-too-real name, seeks. Quick to hook – and hook up with – Brian (Woody Naismith), an Australian photographer still grieving his wife’s recent suicide, Venus notices her beau’s erotic attention drifting and suspects that there is another woman in the picture. Yet much as Brian likes to photograph his subjects wearing carnivalesque masks, Venus is engaged in her own masquerade, putting on makeup and alluring attire to cover an affliction somewhat more dangerous than mere lovesickness.

Departing significantly from his previous genre films (Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, The Shrine), director and co-writer Jon Knautz certainly keeps it all in fantasy, crafting his disturbing, at times hallucinatory portrait of erotomania by filtering events through Venus’ own paranoid perspective, and only occasionally letting the mask slip to reveal the reality underneath. Kendra (who also co-wrote) gives her all in an astonishing, slippery performance – and while there is a ‘bunny boiler’ moment, this erotic thriller distinguishes itself from others by being told from the inside out, with far greater psychological insight (or is that obfuscation?) than is normally associated with this subgenre.

The secret is finally let out – and the film’s every last ambiguity let down – by an ending in which a figure of authority is allowed to overexplain all that has preceded. This might be an homage to the end of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but it also serves to undo, in a disappointingly unsubtle manner, every fragile illusion and equivocation that the film has, along with Venus, so seductively constructed. Still, that seduction is perfection itself.

Anton Bitel