Produced by Leah Sharpe and Christopher Sharpe
Directed and Edited by Christopher Sharpe
Written by John Oak Dalton and Christopher Sharpe
Director of Photography - Shogo Nakagawa
Frank - John Howell
Claire - Jessica Alfrey
Owen - Sheridan Marquardt
Leather Girl - Erika O'Bar
The Old Man - Charlie Dickerson
At the heart of Christopher Sharpe's SEX MACHINE, a guitar-drenched rock & roll nightmare of neon and noir, is a tender love story between two lost souls whose passion for each other is matched only by the chaos erupting around them. Frank and Claire were lovers until Frank's death came between them, and now they have a second chance to make it work, if they both can stay alive long enough.
SEX MACHINE opens with a first 15 minutes that's a pure tour de force of visual storytelling. A scared and bandaged Frank opens his eyes to find a bag full of money, a room full of dead gangsters, a man begging for his life, and a smoking gun in his hand. The wail of sirens is heard off in the distance. His only chance to survive is on foot. When Frank finally gets the chance to remove the bandages covering his face, disjointed images flash in his brain of murder, mayhem, and naked women. Some of the images are as ugly as the fresh, swollen scars that cover his face and body, but none explain the black man's arm attached to his right shoulder, or the tattooed arm he now sports on his left. Pain killers are alcohol are Frank's only release.
All the above are classic conventions of film noir, that great genre whose best efforts came during the 1940's. The key to a good film noir, though, is the girl. There's always a girl. She's the kind of girl you'd give up everything for. The kind of girl whose very name spells a man's downfall. And her lightest touch makes it all worthwhile. Claire is that girl. She's the kind of woman who's had a string of bad breaks and even worse men. Not the typical noir vixen, she's as beautiful as she is kind, and she deserves better. Finally over Frank's death, Claire's reluctant when he comes back into her life. His death broke her heart once, she's not up for it again.
About the time Claire and Frank have their reunion, the film settles into a slower pace that's less dynamic visually than the opening, but necessary for the characters to bond with the audience. Working within a mountain of genre conventions, Sharpe doesn't have time to provide full character arcs. Story is the primary concern. Fortunately, Sharpe knows that solid characters are the key to any good movie. While there's no room for growth and change, Sharpe allows enough interaction that every relationship feels fresh and believable as they channel their fear and pain into every action or word.
When we first meet Claire, she's putting her life back in order. Moving on, she's taken a job from Frank's best friend, Owen, at a bowling alley. Owen, protective of his dead friend's girl, watches over Claire like any good friend would. But the time for mourning is gone, and sometimes a new man can help a woman forget about her painful past. With another bad man, Claire prepares for a nighttime hook-up. It's unclear if she's looking for love, solace, or perhaps attempting to relive a pleasurable memory. Perhaps it's all the above. Only Claire knows, and she's too complicated a woman to tell her secrets.
In order for Frank and Claire to find happiness again, they have to unravel Frank's resurrection and figure out why assassins are on Frank's trail. The key to Frank's return is a cavalcade of b-movie conventions: mad scientists, strippers, back alley brawls, and leather-clad ass kicking zombies. To be honest, it sometimes seems like there's so much going on that it detracts from Frank and Claire. SEX MACHINE becomes an exploitation picture where the exploitation elements are distracting.
It's easy dismiss the hesitant looks of fear and pain in both Frank and Claire as wooden acting, but the low key performances work not just in reinforcing the underlying emotions, but they also function as a counterpoint to Sharpe's kinetic visual style. The neon lit underworld of SEX MACHINE is awash in blues, reds, and greens. The shots are a barrage of dutch tilts, close-ups, and quick cuts. The result could have been MTV-like, but instead comes off more like the hyper-reality in one of those seedy videogames where players get to be car thieves or thugs.
The press material states that SEX MACHINE is a reworking of the Frankenstein mythos, but outside of the initial premise of a man being rebuilt by spare parts, SM is its own entity. It's as much influenced by Mary Shelly as it is THE MATRIX and Quentin Tarantino. Like Brian Clement's MEAT MARKET, SM pays homage to everything "b" without ever kowtowing to stereotypes and clichés. It takes genre archetypes and conventions and breathes fresh life into them by allowing events to become byproducts of character decisions.
The pre-release screener for SEX MACHINE didn't contain any features for review.
SEX MACHINE Official Site