The Monkey's Mask
2000, NR, 91 min. Directed by Samantha Lang. Starring Susie Porter, Kelly McGillis, Marton Csokas, Abbie Cornish.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 12, 2001
Cherchez la femme: That's rule No. 1 in detective fiction, n'est-ce pas? So even Down Under, the lesbian private eye Jill Fitzpatrick (Porter) ought to know how to find her “man.” But just like those hard-boiled detectives of yore, Jill's a sure sucker for a set of pretty gams. In this case, the gams belong to a woman named Diana, played by Kelly McGillis, whose physical lures indeed include more than just a pair of comely legs. Jill is searching for the murderer of a promiscuous young poet named Mickey, a woman who specialized in “victim” poetry and had a thing for older male poets. Her verse was ripe with the language of lethal cocks and aching vaginas, as we hear repeated over and over in a videotape made on the night of her murder in which she recites her poetry at a public reading. Her wannabe Plath poetry is redolent with purple prose, but so too is the language of the male poets we hear reciting, as well as the words in Jill's voiceovers. It's a carryover from the detective movies, but those guys never uttered such inanities as “I never knew poetry could be as sticky as sex.” In all fairness, it must be said that much of the poetry, dialogue, and voiceovers comes verbatim from its original source, a novel in verse by Dorothy Porter (no relation to Susie Porter). Screenwriter Annie Kennedy's other film credit is the script for Alison Maclean's Crush, a taut and amazingly tense thriller about a twisted relationship between two women. The Monkey's Mask is filmed with an eye toward an arthouse sheen, although Lang's dramatic pacing is sluggish and dull. Unfortunately, that leaves more time for the viewer to suck in all the facets of the movie's bad poetry and obvious scenario. The story's forward motion detours occasionally for scenes of hot lesbian sex, and on a purely voyeuristic level, private dick Porter is a real cutie and McGillis of whom we've seen too little in the past decade, might now be in danger of showing too much. The words her character Diana throw at her lover Jill might also sum up movie: “You're a great fuck but a very ordinary detective.”