The gimmick of Adam Rifkin‘s forgettable “Look” is that it’s comprised entirely of footage from surveillance cameras, or at least footage from cameras meant to simulate surveillance cameras. So guess what happens in its very first scene? Two teenage girls strip and cavort in a clothing store dressing room! Doesn’t that just shock and arouse you? Allow you to see private events you weren’t meant to see while also forcing you to question your own motivations for watching them? No?
This scene and “Look” as a whole don’t fly because Rifkin’s film operates, firstly, under a flawed principle and, secondly, flubs any sort of competent execution. The major problem is that Rifkin, writer and director of “The Chase” and “Detroit Rock City,” and since consigned to the lower echelons of Hollywood fare like “National Lampoon’s Homo Erectus,” misunderstands the implications of our contemporary surveillance society. It’s not enough to show people engaging in outrageous, stupid, illicit, or illegal behavior when they think nobody’s looking–scenes of managers screwing their employees in the storeroom, students seducing teachers, and co-workers playing nasty practical jokes may be funny or titillating, but they fail to enlighten us about the increasing ubiquity of technology designed to monitor both the public and private sphere.
Rifkin conveniently ignores the most important component in the voyeuristic equation: the voyeur. Indulging and not challenging the lurid impulses of his viewers, he makes sure the audience’s relationship to “Look”‘s fictionalized surveillance images remains uncomplicated, the stuff of “Caught on Camera” shows and nothing more.
It’s telling that most of “Look”‘s intertwining and poorly acted stories could be depicted without the surveillance camera gimmick and lose only their sensationalism. The two actually dependent on the premise feature an exhibitionist high school student (Spencer Redford) who takes it upon herself to seduce her teacher (Jamie McShane)–the man tries to resist temptation but ultimately buckles; both he and the girl are incriminated via footage of their parking lot tryst–and a woman (the wife of the teacher’s lawyer, played by Jennifer Fontaine) whose young daughter is kidnapped by a tortured loser (Ben Weber). There’s also a department store manager (Hayes MacArthur) engaged in affairs with several of his employees, a convenience store clerk (Rhys Coiro) who identifies a pair of criminals, and a married man (Paul Schackman) rendezvousing with a gay lover (Chris Williams)–that we’re allowed to watch a couple of young women smack their butts against each other but are left outside the men’s hotel room speaks volumes about the film’s unintentional voyeuristic double standard.
We discover their secrets from actions captured on camera, which begs the question: how does the constant presence of cameras, especially in commercial environments, not affect the behavior of the people subjected to them? Do they just grow accustomed to the intrusion and let down their guard? Or does the camera, in any case, fail to tell the whole story? What separates “Look” from a similar recent film like Brian De Palma‘s flawed but critical “Redacted,” is that it earnestly believes in a simplistic correspondence of image to truth.
Since our position vis-a-vis the film’s parade of embarrassing idiocies is privileged and superior–and since everything that happens in front of the cameras is either moralistically punished or cheaply, ironically rewarded–we never have to think about the ethical, psychological, or philosophical consequences of having our lives constantly monitored and recorded. Whereas we’re asked in “Redacted” to take a second look, as it were, at a media landscape that doesn’t just give us access to things we would not ordinarily see but changes their very reception, in “Look” we’re asked to simply gawk, to view its walking caricatures, laugh at and judge them, and then leave the theater unmoved and indifferent.