Exotica (Atom Egoyan, 1994)

by Smart

I love a strong, persistent atmosphere in a film, one that can get under my skin and create a sense of consistency between scenes. Atmosphere can be generated in a million different ways to achieve a million different moods, but it takes a definite amount of skill to pull one off successfully. In Exotica I was pleased to find one of the most involving, effortlessly executed atmospheres I have ever indulged in. It’s dark, dreamlike and sensual. There is a powerful synergy between technique and narrative, and even the stilted, stylised acting fits perfectly. Each character is unique and mysterious, but they never fall into obtuse bizarreness. It’s disturbingly real, while avoiding the stagnancy of reality. Precise pacing allows for the complex story to unfold at a speed that is easy to absorb and keep up with, which is polite considering the alluringly fragmented narrative structure.

There is more happening below the surface here than one could possibly know. Motivations are vague at best, and references are often made to events that have yet to be explored. Hazy dialogue creates awkwardness and tension that puts you inside the environment and lives of the characters. Everything is slowly revealed in a very tantalising fashion. The use of colour and set design is imaginative and really helps to define the style of the film. Character development is rich and there is a clear look at the repetitive struggle with obsession. As the timelines jump back and forth more frequently the music becomes more prominent and works to place dynamic emphasis on each dramatic reveal and the ultimate climax. There is such a wonderful sense of taboo that pushes out with a calm wave across a wide range of deep emotions. It takes a lot of patience, insight and intelligence to express pain and longing in a relatable fashion, but Exotica does so while being irresistibly sexy and fantastic at the same time.