A beautiful woman alone in her expensive home, a husband always tied up with business, a handsome gardener who sure would like to “cool off” in her inviting pool. And by the way, he’s got this…partner.
Sounds like a porn pitch, right? So tried and true it could be from the ’60s.
“Private Property” wears this odd, out of its era mantle for a good reason. It’s based on a fairly notorious 1960 psychosexual thriller that featured the young character-actor/legend in the making Warren Oates.
Writer-director Chadd Harbold’s attempt to update a film that was salacious for its time manages to maintain some of the menace in that scenario, but he and his cast fail to make the voyeurism and sexual tension that the original film is known for seem anything other than quaint.
In telling the story out of order — “The Day Before,” etc. — this version becomes all about plot twists and back story and less about the lust-triangle dynamic that gave it tension, danger and notoriety in its day.
Ashley Benson of “Spring Breakers” is Kathryn Carlisle, a Laurel Canyon “actress, sort of…trying to be…aspiring.”
Married to a producer (Jay Pharaoh) who makes no effort to further her career as he tends to his, she spends her days in the comfort of luxury. One suspects that she cleans her own house out of guilt, to remind her of the devil’s bargain she made to get this life and how it isn’t working out.
She does her laps in the pool and chats with her Jorge the gardener, alone with her thoughts unless she’s nagging her agent for a role, or recording a sordid confessional scene for a video audition.
But a call tells her Jorge is “no longer” with her service. His replacement (Shiloh Fernandez, last seen in “The Birthday Cake”) seems eager to please. He talks a very good game.
“I want my clientele to treat me as a valued collaborator on their home,” a “landscape architect.”
Kathryn tries to rebuff this over-familiarity. But the handsome stranger does her a solid when he picks the lock to let her back into the house she’s locked herself out of. Next thing we know, he’s asking for a dip in her pool and she agrees.
Her condescending “a regular Renaissance man” crack at his “rapper” ambitions mean she’s blown right by his suggestive “I’m pretty good at most physical stuff” innuendo. But his snappish pride keeps her off balance and eager to mollify.
She doesn’t know this guy isn’t a gardener. She hasn’t guessed that he’s broken in next door. Even after she meets her “new neighbor” (Logan Miller) in the company of her new gardener, she can’t piece together the threat or recognize that she’s been targeted.
Fernandez ably pulls off the “yeah, I’ve been in jail” tough that this guy Duke is supposed to be. In “day before” or “two days before” flashbacks, we totally buy him intimidating a store owner out of drinks and pulling a switchblade on a tech guy (Frank Whaley) driving a vintage Buick Electra convertible.
But their best efforts aside, there’s not enough in the film to make me buy into the whole Duke and Oates — the real-names of the guys stalking Kathryn — dynamic, the prison-hardened lady killer lording over the creepy virginal simpleton under his thumb.
Benson, attired in bikinis, short shorts and the like, is presented as a sexual temptation/object of desire/target. But there’s little chemistry between this lonely, spoiled woman and a guy easy to identify as underclass trouble. Yes, she’s talking bluntly about a sexual encounter in a bar restroom in her opening narration. That’s an audition, right? The walk on the wild side seems not part of her makeup or even a personal fantasy, just something she says to the camera.
Without the heat their rising temperatures are supposed to generate, “Private Property” struggles to find its footing and never escapes the feeling that we’re watching something out of date. Sex or sexual assault, both earn a demure treatment here. Little is done with the class conflict, the “movie business” tie-in is an awkward afterthought.
And in making this all about the plot, “revealed” in flashbacks, when the key weapon is clumsily and obviously foreshadowed in the opening scene makes this “Private Property” fail long before closing.
Rating: Rated R for some violence, language and sexual references
Cast: Ashley Benson, Shiloh Fernandez, Logan Miller, Jay Pharaoh and Frank Whaley.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Chadd Harbold, based on the 1960 film written by Leslie Stevens. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:28