Threshold – Zalman King’s ‘Wild Orchid’ (1989)

1 Jun

From the people who brought you 91/2 Weeks!’ screamed the DVD cover and so, me being gullible me, I bought Zalman King’s Wild Orchid expecting some late 80s erotic romp in a similar vein. What I ended up getting was a late 80s mildly erotic inferior cousin to one of my favourite films of the decade.

Wild Orchid see’s a young expert linguist, Emily Reed (played by Carre Otis), flown out to a new job in Rio De Janeiro the day after her initial interview. Upon her arrival she is instructed by her new boss (Jacqueline Bisset) to take go on a date with a business associate, James Wheeler (Mickey Rourke) in her absence. Reed goes on the date but eventually leaves hastily when someone dressed as Wheeler tries to seduce her. And from there onwards I honestly have no complete idea of what happens in the movie because, quite frankly, it was utterly dire.

Otis’s character Emily clearly has some sort of psychosexual problem in the carnality of human interaction and the idea physical closeness with someone. She has a near panic attack when she witnesses a couple of strangers having animalistic sex in a run-down hotel and gets angry at Wheeler when he encourages a broken married couple to have sex in front of them. Similarly, Wheeler also has issues with getting close to people which culminates in Reed having sex with a stranger at Wheelers encouragement. Funnily enough, none of them enjoy it but Reed realises that this is Wheeler’s way of getting close to people. Fair enough for a story except that the plot is padded out with a background story of the business that threatens to actually become the main storyline of the picture (hence my confusion to what actually happened in the picture…).

My other issue with the film is that there isn’t enough character developement to make neither them as people interesting or what happens between them believable. Reduced to a fifty minute short, completely focused on Reed and Wheeler, with more emotional weight and the film would probably be a fair rival to 91/2 Weeks (which director Zalman King wrote and produced). Instead, Otis plays Reed as a sexually neurotic young woman without giving any reason to her behaviour and Rourke plays Wheeler as an incredibly arrogant and one-dimensional bland stereotype. Even when we do find out why he acts the way he does, it’s so predictable that it has barely any redeeming value for his character. What is most surprising is the complete lack of chemistry between the two on-screen given that during filming the two leads became a couple and subsequently got married. Even that infamous sex scene at the very end of the film (often wrongly cited as unsimulated, both parties have said they weren’t having actual sex) seems incredibly mechanical and lacks any real excitement.

As for them riding off into the sunset as a happy couple in the closing moments, don’t try to fool me. She’ll still be incredibly neurotic and he’ll end up pushing her away when she disappoints him. He even says that he’s played games for so long he doesn’t know if he can ever stop. Comparisons to 91/2 Weeks will continue and it’s easy to see why. Truth is that Weeks is actually a far more superior and intelligent film, genuinely exploring human sexual interaction and the consequences that can arise from pairings of opposite people. Wild Orchid is simply a bloated attempt to create something and cash in on it.

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