It’s been said that truth is stranger than fiction, and there may be no movie that embodies that quote more than the hard to watch but compelling “Mope”.
Mope was a new term for me. According to Urban Dictionary, it’s a male porn star, often less known. It describes them as the men “…who do some of the dirtiest work in porn — the blow-bangs, the pile-ups, the spuzz-athons…”.
Based on a true story, writer/director Lucas Heyne’s debut feature delves into a lurid true-crime story set in the seediest parts of the porn world.
In 2010, a wannabe porn star, Stephen Clancy Hill (who went by Stephen Driver) attacked and killed some of his coworkers with a sword before ultimately jumping to his death when he was surrounded by policemen.
In the movie version, Stephen Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and Tommy Dong (Kelly Sry) meet on a bukkake film set, where Tommy helps Stephen. Stephen returns the favor by helping Tommy deal with an overbearing roommate, and the two become friends and start working toward their mutual goal of becoming huge successes in the porn industry. Trying to find work, they end up at Ultima DVD. If there is a dark underbelly of the porn world, Ultima would be the taint.
Ultima focuses on extreme fetishes like ball smashing and cuckold shaming videos. The two go to work for Ultima though, in hopes of building from there into their bigger goal. As their dreams start to go off the rails, Tommy becomes content with his work at Ultima, but Stephen becomes more and more obsessed with becoming the biggest name in the industry. As Stephen’s obsession grows, he begins to come unhinged, and after he gets fired, he loses it completely.
Mope is a solid directorial debut from Heynes. He has crafted a powerful story and puts it bluntly in the viewer’s face. He doesn’t pull any punches (or kicks, for that matter) and he gets strong performances from his cast, especially Stewart-Jarrett, as Driver. It takes a powerful performer to make a character so inherently unlikeable and create empathy for him in the viewer. Another notable performance is Tonya Cornelisse who takes a small, thankless role and breaks your heart.
At the heart of the movie is the friendship between the two lead characters. Dong latches on to Driver’s belief that they can truly become the most successful male porn stars ever, and even as he begins to doubt Driver, he holds to that friendship trying to help Driver right to the very end, even though that loyalty ultimately costs him everything. Actor Kevin Sry is near perfect in the role, giving Dong some humor while portraying a character who has an obvious emptiness that he is desperate to fill.
Despite the movie’s strengths and dedication to storytelling, Mope is not an easy movie to watch.
To its credit, it does not glorify or gloss over any element of the porn industry. While not crossing the borderline into hardcore pornography, it does rub very hard on that line and ejaculates all over it. I watched the movie. I’m glad I did, but I’m not sure its a movie I can say that I liked or enjoyed. I found it hard to watch. Not because of the porn elements, but simply because of the way people treat each other in the movie.
It left me feeling sad. (I’ve been accused — and rightly so — of getting too invested in the movies I watch.) Man’s inhumanity to man is on full display. I watch and enjoy horror movies all the time, and they don’t bother me or give me a second thought. Mope still has me thinking.
Despite how it made me feel though, I have to give Mope a strong recommendation. I wouldn’t call it a horror movie, though it is truly horrifying. Mope is an intriguing, thought-provoking, true-crime drama, and a metaphorical kick to the nards.
This review of MOPE is from the East Coast Premiere at the Boston Underground Film Festival on March 22 at 9:30 pm EST.