Wacky horror films don’t get any better than Robert Parigi’s “Love Object”. For fans of the genre used to lazy screenwriting, amateurish acting, and underwhelming direction, “Object” is a good reason why we continue to trudge through the genre. It’s nicely acted without being outlandish, finely directed despite its moderate budget, and the script is — gasp — original. What more could you ask for?
“Love Object” stars Desmond Harrington (“Wrong Turn”) as Kenneth, an introverted technical writer (he writes those manuals you throw away) who lives for work. Although a handsome fellow, Kenneth is nevertheless uneasy around the ladies, which makes the heavy investment in a $10,000 love doll a fait accompli. But although the love doll, nicknamed Nikki, changes Kenneth’s life, it also spurs him to approach and begin a relationship with attractive co-worker Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller), who has been assigned to help Kenneth on a major project — and who Nikki just happens to be modeled after.
One thing leads to another and soon Kenneth is arguing with Nikki about Lisa. Which leads to Nikki appearing at odd places and calling Kenneth on the phone at work. Or is she? Is it all in our wacky hero’s head or did Nikki the love doll really take a knife to Lisa’s picture? Time will tell. Well, actually, time doesn’t tell, because soon Kenneth is determined to turn Lisa into something else. Something like…Nikki.
At just around 80 minutes, “Love Object” spends most of its time being quirky and wicked, but things quickly take a turn for the dark at the hour mark. After Lisa stumbles onto Kenneth’s secret, it spurs the tech writer to do some remodeling — on Lisa, that is. Also sticking his nose into things is Kenneth’s next-door neighbor and apartment super Radley (Udo Kier). In an ongoing gag, people seem to think Radley is the creepy oddball, whereas they think Kenneth is the “average Joe”. This wrong assumption about the two men works out great for Kenneth at the end, but not so much for Radley.
As a horror film, “Love Object” won’t scare anyone. It has its share of humor (although nothing that will make you laugh) and the script by Parigi is devoid of extraneous bits. The film moves well, offering up a helping of black comedy in the beginning and some bloodletting toward the end. The film is not anywhere as gory as I’ve heard, and if anything it’s rather tame. The script by Parigi can also be appreciated as a study of the pitfalls of modern courtship. Much like the dark “May”, “Object” has something to say about dating in the new millennium, although the film doesn’t resonant anywhere close to Lucky McKee’s film.
The one thing “Love Object” has in abundance is an excellent cast. Lead Desmond Harrington threatens to be a liability because — let’s admit it — the guy is way too handsome for the role of the socially inept Kenneth. The reason why good-looking guys/gals do well in social circles is because they’ve always been appreciated for their looks; they have been weaned to be sure of themselves. That said, Harrington is a good enough actor that he makes it all work. In service of oddity, Harrington makes Kenneth shuffle and gives him a stiff gait.
Melissa Sagemiller (“Soul Survivors”) is equally convincing as the free-spirited Lisa. Pretty and intelligent, Lisa makes a good counterweight to the awkward Kenneth. It’s Lisa who actually pursues the relationship, seemingly attracted to Kenneth by his blank slate when it comes to women. Rip Torn, ever the veteran, breezes as Kenneth’s boss, a man who isn’t beyond tempting Kenneth with a bonus only to withdraw the offer when he thinks he can get away with it.
“Object” also benefits from its limited cast. Besides not spoiling the film with unnecessary extras, the lack of characters give the movie that lonely, isolated vibe that is the film’s theme. First-time writer/director Parigi also does a wise thing and not have Nikki actually talk, but instead her “voice” only exists for Kenneth to hear. Of course we’re supposed to think it’s all in Kenneth’s head, that he’s absolutely insane. But is he?
“Love Object” is an efficient and terrific genre film. It delivers on the offbeat humor throughout, and even manages to offer up some spurts of violence at the end. If anything, the film probably doesn’t go far enough, and sometimes feels a bit restrained.
Robert Parigi (director) / Robert Parigi (screenplay)
CAST: Desmond Harrington …. Kenneth
Melissa Sagemiller …. Lisa
Rip Torn …. Novak
Brad Henke …. Dotson
John Cassini …. Jason
Lyle Kanouse …. Stan
Udo Kier …. Radley