David O. Russell's 'Spanking the Monkey' (1994)

Spanking the Monkey promo posterSpanking the Monkey's playful title will cause you to expect this film to resemble David O. Russell's subsequent films, I Heart Huckabees and Flirting with Disaster. Even the promotional poster calls this film a "comedy." In actuality, Russell's 1994 feature, which has become something of an indie classic, is quite a dark and disturbing film.

All of Russell's films that I've seen have had a distinct flavor. Flirting with Disaster is a zany, road trip movie; I Heart Huckabees blends more subtle comedy with philosophical musings, resulting in something similar to a Wes Anderson affair; Three Kings is an action/adventure war movie unlike any other war movie I've seen.

Spanking the Monkey explores the psychological effects of isolation and lack of privacy, including incest and suicide, with the darkest of dark humor. While none of the main characters are particularly likable, with perhaps the exception of Carla Gallo's Toni, Russell's script and story are compelling, lulling the viewer into almost a dull, unsettling resignation, much like Ray. Though none of the faces are very familiar ones, the acting is solid and Russell's direction effectively duplicates Ray's sense of claustrophobia. Spanking the Monkey is not what I would call an enjoyable film, but it is a well-made one.