Fixer-Upper: Paradise Cove (2021)-Reviewed

(Image Courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

As the content churn continues to eat away at the film industry and studios steer further away from anything not attached to proven IP, the erotic thriller has been lost to the sands of the 1990s. A sub-genre once so prolific that its franchises littered video store shelves the way superheroes clog up algorithms. Poison Ivy, Wild Things, Red Shoe Diaries, sexy people engaging in sex, violence and duplicity, we had it all. Now, a distant memory, the mere suggestion of something akin to those classics makes those of us who decry the sexlessness of modern US cinema’s ears perk up.

At first glance, Martin Guigui’s Paradise Cove is a throwback to those seedy days of yore. Taking place in Southern California, we follow Knox and Tracey (Todd Grinnell and Mena Suvari) as they temporarily move into Knox’s deceased mother’s beach house to fix it up and flip it. An idyllic getaway quickly descends into a nightmare as they discover a homeless woman squatting beneath the house. The woman, an aging Hollywood starlet-that-never-was named Bree (Kristen Bauer van Straten) claims to be the rightful heir to the household and under squatters’ rights, can’t be evicted. What follows is an escalation of temptation, violence and secrets as Bree terrorizes the couple. 

Sounds like a perfectly trashy throwback, no? Well...

Paradise Cove’s central problem is one that’s impossible to overcome: it’s not sexy. It’s not particularly thrilling either. Bafflingly, almost defiantly refusing to ever go all in on any of the genre’s hallmarks, Guigui instead opts for the most sterile version of this film. Every scene approaching a sex scene is shot as if it’s afraid to show even an elbow and that’s when it’s not immediately cutting away. 

The escalation is never present because Bree is so clearly out of her mind from the jump. Everyone in the town knows this and inexplicably defends her at every turn. You almost feel like you’re the crazy one because Bree is so clearly villainous but the sheriff, the neighbors and any other townie of note sees this and just kind of shrugs. It’s bizarre.

(Image Courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

For a film so clearly wearing 90s DTV trash on its sleeve, it’s remarkably safe. There’s no danger here whatsoever. You’re in the hands of someone actively afraid of any sort of eroticism, dubious morals or violence. If there were anything else remotely interesting present, maybe one could look past how safe it all is. But there’s nothing here. 

The narrative is dull, with nothing to say and so straightforward that you can’t even call it predictable. The cast is asleep at the wheel, worst being the once BAFTA and SAG nominated Suvari who performs moments of anguish like she’s been notified that her Amazon package is running a day late. The filmmaking is abysmal, shots lingering awkwardly on actors who have long finished their lines and are desperately hoping someone will yell “cut!” No one has any sort of chemistry which makes the sparse sex scenes feel routine and cold. 

All things that could be maybe overlooked had Paradise Cove displayed any discernible identity. At least Guigui’s prior films are bad in ways that are entertaining, particularly the astonishingly offensive 9/11. In his latest outing, he whiffs spectacularly at delivering trashy fun which for a film so steeped in the aesthetics and pacing of 90s erotica, might be the biggest crime of all. 

-Brandon Streussnig