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The twisted tale of Kenneth, socially insecure technical writer who forms an obsessive relationship with "Nikki", an anatomically accurate silicone sex doll he orders over the Internet. Because of his experience with his new toy, Kenneth's life takes a turn for the better when his newfound romantic skills attract the attention of Lisa, a co-worker at his office. But when the doll's jealous personality invades his consciousness, Kenneth becomes trapped in a perverse triangle, torn between the dominating, silicone Nikki and the flesh-and-blood Lisa. Written by
Kenneth (Desmond Harrington) works as a technical writer--he creates user's manuals. He's good at his job but he has trouble emotionally connecting with others. At about the same time that Kenneth's boss, Novak (Rip Torn), hires an attractive temp assistant for him, Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller), Kenneth becomes obsessed with a lifelike sex doll named "Nikki". He gradually makes the doll appear as close as he can to Lisa. But when Lisa begins showing interest in him, it leads to complications and possibly disastrous consequences.
Writer/director Robert Parigi's Love Object is an exploration of various kinds of objectification, but in the wrapper of a psychological thriller/horror film. Although it is sourced in an actual object called "The Real Doll" (an expensive, life-like sex doll available via mail order/on the Internet), and it has filmic thematic precursors, from the good (Private Parts, 1972) to the not so good (Der Mann nebenan, aka A Demon in My View, 1991), as well as attitudinal/emotional precursors, ranging from Psycho (1960) to Boxing Helena (1993) to Office Space (1999), Parigi is much more tightly focused on objectification, not only when it comes to sex, but also as it imbues working life and to a small extent, private life, as well.
The first half hour of the film shows us Kenneth at his job. The office is bland and conformist, with white-collar employees sitting in similar cubicles as they crank out their soul-squelching work and desperately try to find anything to provide a spark of color or entertainment and help them get through their days. We can tell that Kenneth has been at it for a while, because he has the blankest look on his face. Parigi is showing us how this kind of work objectifies employees. They're just cogs in a wheel, alienated and alienating, chipping away at mostly meaningless crap, existing only insofar as they continue to feed the right objects to their fellow workers and the administrative machinery. (Can you tell I've worked one of those jobs before?) Once Lisa arrives, she's objectified as a tool to help production, only useful and existent as long as she fulfills that function. When she puts a kink into it by having an emotional outburst, she's threatened with exile. Emotions aren't allowed.
So it's no surprise, being socialized into such a work environment, that Kenneth fetishizes a literal object, "Nikki", which he often relates to via a user's manual on his computer. And it's no surprise that he transfers that conceptualization to Lisa. As the film progresses, Kenneth tries to make Lisa and Nikki more alike, sometimes working on one, sometimes the other. Long before they begin to unify, Kenneth shows signs that his alienation is leading to a loss of his rational faculties. He begins to believe that Nikki is alive, interacting with him and eventually threatening him. He later begins to conflate Lisa and Nikki while he's with Lisa. Obviously, this is a recipe for disaster, and what a delicious disaster Parigi gives us in the final section of the film.
Although relatively slow in the beginning, the pacing and suspense gradually intensify until the climax. The change is appropriate, as the film takes place during Kenneth's break with sanity. It's only slight quirks at the beginning, but by the end he's a full-blown psycho. That's not something that happens in the blink of an eye.
Parigi also works his theme of objectification into the residents of the apartment where Kenneth dwells. Even though they live together, sometimes right next door to each other, they think of one another more as functions. One person is the manager, another the cop. Kenneth, known as the "degenerate" to the cop, watches the manager (Udo Kier) fondling a woman in the hall, objectifying them as porno material (and there are also later scenes in a porno shop, a locale where objectification has long been an issue). The manager is shown at one point playing with dolls of his own--small porcelain figurines that he makes dance a waltz.
Of course, one need not think about these issues much to enjoy the film. Parigi has done a remarkable job making an independent, low budget artwork. It was shot on Super 16 and looks great. The production design is excellent (a real standout is when Kenneth is awarded an office of his own), and Parigi's direction is impeccable. You can easily enjoy the film from the thriller/horror aspect alone. On that end, the film is full of increasing tension, it's occasionally and effectively visceral, and it has a nicely surprising ending. Don't miss this one.
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