SXSW 2015: Prepare yourself for the cinematic roller coaster that is ‘The Nymphets’

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The Nymphets 
Written and directed by Gary Gardner
USA, 2015

It takes only a few moments for The Nymphets to establish its chaotic atmosphere. Opening with a percussive, kinetic score and whipping through its credits, Gary Gardner’s film is rarely at a standstill. Character dynamics are always changing, and the narrative has a way of shifting course, preventing viewers from discerning where exactly its going. The Nymphets is always in a state of flux, which makes for an exhilarating – if at times frustrating – cinematic experience.

The premise of the film is exceedingly simple. Joseph (Kip Pardue), a wealthy thirty-something, invites two impish young women over to his apartment for a night of drugs, sex and alcohol. At first Brittany and Allison (Annabelle Dexter-Jones and Jordan Lane Price respectively) seem like your stereotypical vapid teen sexpots. They giggle endlessly with each other, make immature jabs at their host, and parade around the apartment in his clothes. But they are not as inane as they appear. The two actually have a strong hold over Joseph, coercing him into engaging in foolish antics, which become increasingly destructive as the evening wears on. At first, they are just compelling him to pour a shot of vodka into his eye, but it is not long before they are manipulating him into breaking up with his long-time girlfriend. The girls’ incessant laughter, which once seemed so childish, adopts a sinister air. The night is just getting started. The girls continue to push Joseph to his breaking point, and it is not long before he starts returning the favor.

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The brilliance of The Nymphets lies in the way it constantly alters the power dynamics between the characters. In the beginning, Joseph seems to be a potential victim, but he soon proves himself capable of causing harm to these two hellions. Though Ashley and Brittany’s relationship initially appears steadfast, a wedge is driven between them over the course of the narrative. It is never certain where these characters stand with one another, and this adds an element of spontaneity to each one of their actions.

Though Gardner worked heavily off of his own screenplay, he collaborated closely with his actors, allowing them to improvise throughout the production. The efforts he made with his cast were not wasted, as each performance comes across as thoughtful and authentic. Dexter-Jones in particular gives a mesmerizing turn, effortlessly shifting her character from carefree vixen to potential madwoman to vulnerable young girl. Her efforts, as well as the rest of the cast’s, are a large part of what makes The Nymphets such a joy to watch.

The Nymphets is not an easy film to classify, as it toes several genre lines – comedy, suspense, drama – over the course of its 75-minute running time. It may aggravate viewers due its refusal to reveal the direction of its story, but the pervasive ambiguity is part of the appeal. The film sends viewers careening through various narrative loop-de-loops, subverting their expectations and keeping them in the dark until it reaches its unforeseen finale.

— Jacob Carter

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