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Without The Voyeurs, We Wouldn’t Have Immaculate

You can thank the 2021 erotic thriller for Sydney Sweeney’s craziest role yet.

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Despite the miracle its title implies, Immaculate wasn’t born from nothing. In truth, it was a major labor of love for scream queen Sydney Sweeney, who auditioned for the film when she was just 16 and was never able to get its twisty concepts out of her head.

“10 years later, I decided to make it,” Sweeney told Jimmy Fallon ahead of Immaculate’s release. Upon discovering that the film had fallen into development purgatory, the actress contacted the screenwriter, acquired and revised the script, and attached producers to the project. Finding a director was the final piece of the puzzle, and Sweeney knew she had to tap someone she could trust.

That someone turned out to be Michael Mohan, a filmmaker that Sweeney first met on the set of Netflix series Everything Sucks! For Mohan, the series was “only scratching the surface” of what he felt Sweeney was capable of. The actress has more than proven him right in the intervening years, with turns in Euphoria, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Reality cementing her as an acting powerhouse. Sweeney reaches new heights in Immaculate: love it or hate it, the actress gives a gonzo performance. It’s supported by a director that has no problem pushing the envelope, making us cringe, or rattling our ideas of morality and autonomy.

At the end of the day, Mohan is a filmmaker that wants to get a reaction out of his audience — and for better or worse, he often gets it. With his upcoming film, he and Sweeney have established themselves as a duo worth the discourse. But to understand the levels of trust that went into their collaboration in Immaculate, it doesn’t hurt to study up on their second team-up, with an erotic thriller that fell under the radar upon its initial release.

The Voyeurs was originally conceived by Mohan as a remix of Rear Window for the Instagram age. Sweeney is Pippa, a twentysomething ophthalmologist who’s thrilled to finally move in with her stay-at-home boyfriend Thomas (Justice Smith). Our lovebirds have scarcely made themselves at home in their loft apartment before they notice their neighbors across the street. Holed up in a high rise just a few feet away, it’s impossible not to spy on the glitzy married couple (played by X-Men alum Ben Hardy and Ahsoka’s Natasha Liu Bordizzo, respectively) going about their daily lives. For one, they seem to have an aversion to curtains. And for another, they really can’t keep their hands off of each other.

Their wanton exhibitionism comes off as gauche to Thomas — but for Pippa, who’s secretly feeling a little dissatisfied in the bedroom, it’s not so easy to look away. She and a reluctant Thomas make a game out of watching them, giving their neighbors fake names, cheering them on during small triumphs, and occasionally using their red-hot antics to spice up their own sex life.

The Voyeurs can, admittedly, be silly — but consistent tension keeps the film from feeling like a farce.

Prime Video

Things take a dubious turn when “Margot” departs on a business trip, and our heroes watch her husband “Brent,” a professional photographer, seduce a model in their apartment. Pippa and Thomas try to chalk it up to an open relationship, but the longer they watch this couple across the way, the less sound their marriage seems. Sexy mystique quickly gives way to one-sided conjugal strife, and Pippa feels increasingly compelled to reach out to Margot and explain that her husband is secretly cheating on her.

That her savior complex inevitably triggers a messy and tragic chain of events is no surprise; thankfully, Mohan isn’t going for subtlety with The Voyeurs. The twists are gratuitous and often silly, punctuated by the director’s affinity for ocular allusions. Pippa’s job becomes very important in the grand scheme: she conducts eye exams rife with sexual tension, while close-ups of eyes give way to shots of runny, hard-boiled eggs.

Through it all, you get the sense that Mohan knows what he’s doing. The Voyeurs is meant to be a feast for the senses, as visually stimulating as it is sensual. The story itself doesn’t always work, but it’s admittedly entertaining otherwise.

Despite the dubious cautionary tale at the center of The Voyeurs, the female gaze remains a focal point.

Prime Video

In hindsight, The Voyeurs also feels like a major turning point in Sweeney’s filmography. The film shares a lot of connective tissue with Euphoria, the series that put the actress on the map... and has since come under fire for its sexualization of her character, Cassie. In The Voyeurs, Sweeney isn’t shying away from nudity or sex (Mohan even brought Euphoria’s intimacy coordinator on for the steamier scenes). But there’s a clear difference between the way those themes are portrayed in the HBO series, and the way that Sweeney embodies Pippa’s sexuality in The Voyeurs.

Despite its sticky ideas about privacy, The Voyeurs never outright exploits Sweeney. Mohan gives the actress space to reclaim the conversation around her body and the way it’s perceived in media. As Pippa falls down the rabbit hole, giving in to her base desires, you get the sense that this experiment has also freed Sweeney. The Voyeurs is surprisingly receptive to the female gaze, and that’s part of what makes the film such an intriguing erotic thriller. Like Immaculate, it’s not for everyone — but it does prove exactly why Sweeney and Mohan are a match made in heaven.

The Voyeurs is now streaming on Prime Video.

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