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By Merle Bertrand | May 24, 1999

Shredded skin hangs from my bones as I write this, filleted by a self-inflicted sandpaper scouring after watching Mark David’s “Sweet Thing.” This sick, darkly brooding saga of evil ambition and avenged sexual abuse is one intense and oppressive, if wildly uneven, ick-fest.
Sean Fields (Jeremy Fox) is a gifted but disturbed painter whose dysfunctional sexual predilections are all-too apparent in his perverse and blasphemous canvases. This doesn’t please Judge Ray Fields (Ev Lunning, Jr.), Sean’s domineering step-dad, who’s planning a run for Congress and can’t afford to have his estranged stepson “embarrass” him. So, hizzoner orders weasely campaign aide Weiss (Michæl Dalmon) to hire enigmatic prostitute Hannah (the beguiling Amalia Stifter) to seduce Sean and distract him from his “obscene” painting. To paraphrase our pal Ron, hilarity definitely does NOT ensue.
But complications sure do. Still haunted by the horrid memories of the Judge’s despicable nighttime visits, Sean harbors a dangerously growing rage. The Fields’ servant Solomon (Tim Curry), though aware of these sordid events, is beholden to the Judge because of a dark secret of his own and is powerless to act. And then there’s Hannah, who desperately wants to keep her own secret life hidden as her feelings for the tortured artist deepen… with lethal repercussions.
Full of sumptuous imagery and with an inherently potent storyline, “Sweet Thing” too often can’t seem to get out of its own way. Its already gloomy, languid pace slowed further by too many pointless fell-in-love-with-the-footage montages, the film is just plain too long. David only rarely lightens the mood or alters the intensity until about the last ten (powerful) minutes.
And then there’s the bizarre cutting. Now, granted, I’m pretty much a meat and potatoes guy, but disruptive, seemingly random jump-cuts bouncing all over the eyeline axis do nothing but take you out of the story. When you can’t tell the difference between a mistake and an attempt to be “arty,” that’s a problem.
On the plus side, the cast turns in solid, if somewhat overwrought, performances, although Fox’ Sean, oddly enough, was the least interesting character. Hannah’s tragic pickle or even the Judge and his oily sidekick Weiss were far more compelling than the whiny and spineless protagonist.
Provocative and gorgeous to look at, the somber and angst-ridden “Sweet Thing” is a perfect festival film. Whether the general public wants to slog through a sullen and sluggish two-hour flick about semi-incestuous pedophilia is another matter entirely.

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