Directed by: #RichardJMoir
Through a cold open showing a monochrome view of a rough, harsh, and unyielding London, Temptation immediately establishes its tone of strife.
What it doesn’t prepare us for is the willingness of director Richard J Moir to dive into the rabbit hole of art cinema, marrying the genre with a character focused narrative that effectively and consistently delivers emotional gut punches. The dehumanised ‘boy’ is all we ever know our lead as, but a meticulously crafted narrative combined with scenes of pure symbolism, soon align us with his plight, without ever letting up.
The boy is established as weak, almost childlike as we follow him through the dangerous streets of the big smoke, alone; a sex worker, abused by his pimp and clients alike. Illuminating flashbacks reveal a sinister nature lurking beneath and we struggle alongside him to resist the temptation to see him take vengeance on those abusers. Moir makes the clever decision to remove a sense of time from the narrative. The lack of clarity is one of the experimental elements that he employs to throw us, like the boy, down a rabbit hole of trauma and repressed psychosis, making it often unclear what is real.
While there are undoubtedly overtones of social commentary, be it the treatment of sex workers, familial abuse, and queer theory, the focus stays where it should be; the cognitive war inside the boy’s mind. Shooting entirely in black and white is an obvious, yet subtly effective tool to initially hint at his mental state. Moir says a lot with little dialogue, showing the boy’s depression through his choice of colour palette and costume. As the boy appears to climb out of his hole and carve a life of attempted normalcy, he switches from his all black ensemble to the sort of outfit a mid-twenties lad tends to wear, complete with hipster buttoned up collar.
Music, as it should always be, is key here. From the beginning, we explore the boy’s love of all things classical, so the melancholy sound of violins use as a leitmotif for our protagonist feels appropriate. Moir knows how to utilise sound on a practical level too, as during one scene we find ourselves undertaking a slow-motion penance walk towards his next abuser, only to be snapped back to reality by a sharp edit and startling sound. The only elements that seem disparate are the 80s infused compositions which clash with the tone, and remove the film from its timeless aesthetic.
As the boy dives deeper into his psyche, it becomes clear that all we’re shown isn’t to be taken literally. The dinner party scene - written with finesse - allows the film to slowly reveal its hand, as the eclectic guests are more than hinted to be mere Kubrickian manifestations. A less proficient writer would’ve crafted a scene reeking of on-the-nose dialogue, but Moir creates something sad, frightening, and intriguing all at once. This is perhaps due in part to the stellar #cinematography, which removes all semblance of life, plunging the boy into an absolute darkness, with only the odd set piece to remind us of where he once was.
Temptation wants you to take its tale seriously, a modus operandi that’s clear immediately from its grim tone. Moir is believable and sympathetic as the boy; undoubtedly the most important character to nail. Regrettably, there are one or two performances that while visually effective, veer into hammy acting territory. Austin, for example, is slightly too exaggerated, a creative choice that might’ve worked for the more experimental scenes, but when grounded in reality, alienates the audience from the film’s stoic atmosphere. His character sadly reminds us that Temptation is simply what it is; a film. That said, these niggles are scarce as the vast majority of the cast perform with either gritty realism or an otherworldly gusto.
To conclude, Temptation is masterful. A stunning experimental character study with visual influences from Lynch, Kubrick, and beyond, it’s an emotionally charged triumph from start to finish. The film doesn’t overstay its welcome either, keeping the runtime to a snappy, yet satisfying 68 minutes. Moir excels in his roles as director, writer, and lead performer, and is an exciting discovery; brimming with talent and one to watch.