Gregory Hatanaka pursues an erotic thriller vibe in Choke, as stylized strangulations and sexual asphyxiation led to a detective, Robert (Scott Butler) and serial killer, Brandon (Shane Ryan) in lustful pursuit of the same girl, Jeanie (Sarah Brine). Promising a duel of fates between detective and killer at the beginning, Choke takes strange turns as motivational speakers, therapists, and lots, and lots of salt crystals lead the audience down a path of uncertainty. This uncertainty takes place both with the movie’s characters and the viewing audience.
Opening with a montage of victims, Choke shows Brandon’s life and the effect each kill has on his psyche and sex drive. Brandon meets a young Jeanie on a train and begins to build trust with her, making an instant connection, all while fantasizing about her murder. Brandon’s grim killings are contrasted with Robert’s longing for his estranged ex-girlfriend and futile efforts to fill the void left in his heart that the job and sex cannot.
“…Jeanie and Robert succumb to each other’s urges, while Brandon seeks to stifle his own.”
As Choke progresses, Robert is introduced to Jeanie, who, through a therapist, Stephanie (Lisa London), begins to experiment with self-asphyxiation as a means to sexual pleasure and to open their minds. Jeanie continues to remind Robert of a girl he could not save, while Brandon sees Jeanie as one of his past victims. Relationships become more complex as Jeanie and Robert succumb to each other’s urges, while Brandon seeks to stifle his own. Through a series of asphyxiated sexcapades and Brandon’s new victims, the narrative takes strange turns, climaxing as this mystifying lust triangle finally converges.
I must give credit to the performances in this film, especially Ryan and Brine. The two of them completely go for broke in this film. In every moment of choking and beginning choked, they sell it entirely. Even in the aftermath, the two spring to life or wallow in the madness in ways that show intense dedication to their roles. Despite these performances, many plot elements and tones of the film seem to be conflicting. There are also several scenes where the line between attempts at being Fifty Shades of Grey and being a serial killer drama are very unclear.
Between an unstructured story and moments of sexual violence and violent sexuality, this film struggles to commit to a singular tone fully. Overall, it seems like a mixed bag for me. The film seems to have too many attempts at sexiness to be a steamy erotic thriller and too much focus on trying to be sexy to be a focused crime drama. I think it’s possible to find that proper balance in film, but Choke is too mixed to give a solid recommendation.
"…too much focus on trying to be sexy to be a focused crime drama"