Whatever its other flaws, French filmmaker François Ozon’s erotic thriller Double Lover certainly doesn’t hold back in its depiction of sexuality. The opening shot shows main character Chloé (Marine Vacth) getting what looks like a somewhat traumatic haircut, and Ozon cuts from there to an extreme close-up of his heroine’s genitals, as Chloé undergoes a gynecological examination. It’s a bracing way to begin what ends up being a very silly movie, the story of Chloé’s affair with twin psychotherapists played by Jérémie Renier, as her psyche slowly deteriorates. The prolific and versatile Ozon has taken on erotic thrillers before (most notably in 2003’s Swimming Pool, probably his best-known movie in the U.S.), but Double Lover fully embraces the trashiness of the genre, seemingly influenced as strongly by ’90s direct-to-video softcore as by the works of Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg.
A timid and nervous former fashion model, Chloé seeks out the services of therapist Paul Meyer (Renier) at the recommendation of her doctor, who believes that Chloé’s chronic stomach pain is all in her head. The patient, kind Paul takes an immediate liking to Chloé, and it isn’t long before they’ve converted their therapist-client relationship into a romantic one. They move in together, but their domestic bliss is short-lived when Chloé discovers that Paul has a twin brother he’s never told her about—who also happens to be a therapist practicing in the same city. Chloé surreptitiously starts seeing Louis Delord (also Renier), who’s cruel and demanding and has no reservations about screwing his patients as part of therapy (indeed, it appears to be his only therapeutic tool).
The movie’s sex scenes are often gloriously unhinged, and Ozon never looks away from their nastiness. Louis pushes Chloé’s boundaries, getting her to try out pegging with Paul and eagerly performing oral sex on her while she’s menstruating (culminating in a gleeful shot of Louis looking like a vampire who’s just fed). The special effects aren’t quite convincing enough for the dream sequence featuring some hot Renier-on-Renier action, and in general the explicit moments are as ridiculous as they are titillating.
Ozon goes a bit overboard on the twin imagery, with mirrors everywhere and frequent De Palma-style split screens, and the stylish visuals help build an unsettling sense of dread. Vacth (who starred in Ozon’s Young & Beautiful) gives Chloé a sense of damaged vulnerability that’s sometimes masked by her beauty (her job as a museum guard finds her sitting still among works of art, as if she’s just another piece on display), in contrast to Renier’s hammier, sometimes cartoonish performance. But as the movie builds and Chloé delves more deeply into the past of her twin lovers, the narrative fizzles out, culminating in revelations that are either anticlimactic or nonsensical (or both). Loosely based on a little-known novel by Joyce Carol Oates (written under a pseudonym), Double Lover has the gloss of high-minded art, and the soul of pure sleaze.