Roger Avery made his name when he sat down with his fellow video store employee and wrote a script that turned out to be one of the defining moments of ’90s cinema. His writing partner was Quentin Tarantino and that film was Pulp Fiction. Since then, Avery has directed his own film (the disappointing Killing Zoe) and now returns with this adaptation of the Brett Easton Ellis novel.
The Rules Of Attraction is about a love triangle in an East Coast college between Sean Bateman, Lauren Hyde and Paul Denton. Sean, (James Van Der Beek) is an amoral drug dealer bordering on psychotic (fittingly, he’s the brother of American Psycho protagonist Patrick Bateman). He’s in love with Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), a virgin saving herself for her boyfriend Victor (who Ellis fans will know from his novel Glamorama) who’s on a trip around Europe. Meanwhile, Lauren’s ex-boyfriend Paul (Ian Somerhalder) is exploring his bisexual side and has a major crush on Sean.
With the exception of Lauren, none of those characters are particularly likable. Indeed it could be argued that the whole film is rather empty, focussing as it does on the shallow lifestyles of the rich and privileged. That’s the whole point of Ellis’ work though, and it’s to Avery’s credit that he’s created such a watchable film from the difficult source material.
Avery imbues his film with a palpable sense of energy that’s obvious from the start. He employs some daring techniques such as literally rewinding the film at many points in order to jump in both time and perspective. Set pieces such as Victor’s speeded up trip to Europe are audacious and he even manages to use old favourites such split screen technique effectively. However, he does tend to rely on voiceovers too much, and some sections of the film (such as Paul’s trip to see an ex-boyfriend) don’t work at all.
Acting wise, Van Der Beek is a revelation as Bateman. Avery shoots him in a most unflattering way, highlighting his long, angular face, guaranteeing his Dawson Creek fans will run screaming from the cinema. Nasty, shallow and throughably unlikeable, he blows his clean-cut image right out of the water. Sossamon too is excellent as Lauren, although it’s unclear why she’d ever fall for self-centered jerks like Sean or Victor. There are also fun cameos from Eric Stoltz and Faye Dunaway, although Russell Sams goes disastrously over the top as Paul’s ex, Dick.
The Rules Of Attraction will sharply divide audiences between those who love its energy and style, and those who are repelled or exhausted by it. Despite its flaws (of which there are a fair few), this is bold and risky film making that is guaranteed cult status for many years to come. Maybe not one to watch if you’re a fan of Maid In Manhattan, but for everyone else this is the most inventive film to be released since Fight Club.