By: Dani Hall
Boobs. Butts. Dick. Vagina.
Got the giggles out of your system?
Great. Let’s talk about porn. (WARNING: Major spoilers ahead)
Her & Him is the debut porn film from actress turn director Bella Thorne, and the internet is buzzing. With the Pornhub Awards over the weekend, Her & Him has stirred some interest from both the adult entertainment industry and cinephiles alike. After watching it, I could see why. For one thing, pornography has always been a free-for-all as far as formula is concerned, and hey, it’s been around since the advent of the camera itself. Whether you’re a consumer yourself or not, porn is an artform, like photography or mainstream film. Taking that into account, there are two ways of looking at Her & Him: first as a porn, and second as a film. To look at one but not the other cuts the short, well… short.
First, as a porn. With how much content exists online, it’s rare to see pornography with this kind of forethought and genre mixing. The horror elements of the girlfriend dangling her boyfriend nearly within an inch of his life to get her sexual kicks is a fun shift in power-dynamics. Porn has always been a contentious issue, particularly in feminist groups. While some view it as a form of sex work, which empowers the actresses in its content, others regard porn as yet another objectification of the female body, as well as plenty of depictions of violence towards women.
What has viewers of Her & Him so interested are the shift in dynamics. There are plenty of dominatrix videos online for ogling purposes, so dominant women aren’t rare. However, what’s causing the buzz around these characters is the actual homicidal nature of the girlfriend. Most female dom characters tease and toy with their boy counterparts, not kill them. This may explain why Her & Him has garnered the attention it has. As a porno, I’m pretty sure the desired effect of Her & Him was a fear boner, and whoever got turned on by it probably walked away with some very pressing questions about themselves. Some advice for those who might want to do some experimenting in the bedroom: keep a first aid kit on hand, don’t go past the knees or elbows, and make sure your knives are super dull. Also, aftercare is a vital part of the BDSM lifestyle. I suggest cuddles and tacos.
It’s not just the lust for murder that has porn viewers curious. As well as the redirection of aggression through a female filter, the sex itself is very much centered on the girlfriend’s pleasure. She controls the narrative of their sex life, all the way into the shower scene. The boyfriend is not using her for his own sexual needs, but servicing her at every opportunity. It’s a role reversal in pornography that seems to be more and more prominent as women assume more directorial and producing roles in the industry. Equality, my dudes.
But now… let’s talk about the film aspects. Because… wow.
First, we need to discuss the visuals of the whole ordeal. The short was clearly an experimental piece of filmmaking, and often reminded me of the movies of the 60’s, spearheaded by directors like Jean-Luc Godard. Things like the overlaying audio and the extreme, long-holding close-up takes were very much reminiscent of titles like Contempt and Breathless. But where the French New Wave broke rules to make its audience think, or test the limits of cinema’s status-quo, Her & Him breaks rules to… break rules? I think?
Let’s be real. Her & Him, as a film, is a dumpster fire.
The close camera hardly ever broke away for long or establishing shots, making things claustrophobic and distracting. The jump-cuts, which frequently broke the 180º line (the imaginary line of sight that helps with visual continuity), constantly reversed the characters on screen. There was no sense of space for most of the run time, and it was distracting trying to mentally configure the set while the camera was up in the actors’ noses. The audio constantly swelled into overbearing static, which can be effective if used sparingly. Key word “sparingly.” One of the reasons we have conventions like extreme closeups and disjointed audio is to give an unnerving reaction to the audience. But here’s the kicker: there needs to be a balance of normalcy to offset the unsettling, or else it all just becomes noise. Example: remember Black Swan? Do you remember how unsettled and creepy you felt watching it? How unnerving it was to watch Natalie Portman unravel mentally while striving for perfection? Now imagine if that film was just the character’s hallucinations. After a while, you’d become numb to it, and the truly disturbing aspects of the movie wouldn’t have the same punch.
It’s the same here. From the first frame of Her & Him, we’re treated to uncomfortable visuals that confuse and displace the audience. Characters talk off screen, images blur and duplicate, and the camera fluctuates in exposure. These techniques aren’t themselves “bad” per se, but piled on top of each other without a moment to breathe or no real message behind them, it becomes an armature experiment in epilepsy detection—that’s not even mentioning the abysmal writing and dialog of the whole thing.
Ok, yes, it’s porn, but we’ve already judged it based off of those merits. If these actors and this dialog were in a major motion picture, it would get pulled from theaters after a two week run. The girlfriend threatening her boyfriend with a knife and expounding on how hot she finds manslaughter is strange enough, without lines like: “You don’t understand? How can you not understand my need for blood?” That line in particular read like a bad Twilight fanfiction. Even the establishing banter like the girlfriend coming home with food is weirdly robotic. This may be a personal nitpick, but she wakes him up with a burger and fries on a plate (not in a paper bag or some other form of disposable dishware that would compliment the fact that it’s fast food), and makes him a cup of tea. The dialog hinted that he was giving up coffee which was why tea was substituted, but on that note, who has coffee with a burger and french fries and doesn’t live in 1955?
Every “normal” choice these people make is mind-bogglingly weird or contrived. For instance, he borrows her phone only to immediately find a Google search for “how to kill your boyfriend and get away with it.” I actually stopped the video and laughed. The plot twist of Her & Him is also inorganic and clunky—it doesn’t really feel like a twist at all. Apparently, the girlfriend had gone out with a friend of hers, who had conveniently borrowed her phone and searched for that article. Yet, left it on the search page and not the article itself? This would all be well and good if the horror aspects were all psychological in nature, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the girlfriend actually tried to stab her boyfriend with a knife, which she only missed because HE ducked out of the way. Really defeats the purpose of: “Oh, she wasn’t actually trying to kill him she’s just weird! Womp womp!” On top of that, the friend who looked up that article apparently didn’t read it in full, because it ends with her just straight up stabbing her man to death on the floor. Pretty sure I’ve seen enough CSI to know she’s not getting away with it. She got the first part down, I guess. Points for trying.
I could go on, but I do feel the need to express one last thought: I don’t actually hate this film. It’s a convoluted mess that’s a little too affects happy, but you know something? There’s effort here. And if Bella Thorne is seriously considering directing, there are worse projects she can attach herself to. Make no mistake, Her & Him is hot garbage, but it’s fun hot garbage, in the same way as Rocky Horror or Plan Nine, just with 100% more penis. I have a feeling this is going to fall into those same cult circles, and perhaps could even be a fun retrospective should Thorne’s career blossom beyond it.
Always clear your browser history, guys. Always.