The biggest special effect in Robert Parigi's droll and modestly creepy horror film about love in the postmodern world comes with a name — and an instruction manual. Fashioned from silicone skin and ceramic teeth, and perfect from synthetic blond head to flawless toe, the titular love object, "Nikki," first appears in a wooden crate shipped direct from a company called Modern Leisure Appliances. The latest in service providers, Modern Leisure builds simulated women to exact specifications for discriminating clients, the kind who don't want to waste emotions (and anything else) on flesh-and-blood partners. As someone explains, the beauty of such arrangements is that "you don't have to take a sex doll to see 'The English Patient.' "
Because he's unbearably lonely (and perhaps maintains an aversion to Anthony Minghella's romantic epic), a young technical writer, Kenneth (Desmond Harrington), empties out his bank account for one of Modern Leisure's dolls. Initially, the pair couldn't be a better fit. After giving Nikki's instruction manual a thorough read, the painfully shy Kenneth opens up at work, becoming a model of efficiency. Dressed by Kenneth in an array of day and night outfits — a sleek suit for work, peek-a-boo lingerie for evening — Nikki, meanwhile, keeps her mouth figuratively shut and ready for action. The doll fulfills its owner's every need (he holds its hand during dinner), becoming a companion and, increasingly, an unnerving mirror to Kenneth's inner workings — as well as one very smart allegory.
Shooting in Los Angeles with old-fashioned B movie ingenuity, Parigi makes the most of a transparently limited budget. The sets are generic, adequate to the task, recalling the poverty-row aesthetic of such movies as Edgar G. Ulmer's "Detour." (Only a videotape dub was made available for preview, so it's impossible to say much about the film's look.) As in the most memorable noir cheapies, movies in which death and desire race toward each other for an inevitable crackup, what counts is how well the filmmaker makes you forget you're watching something held together with spit and a prayer. In this, Parigi — who's clearly made a close study of Alfred Hitchcock's obsessions and has watched a fair share of intelligent horror perched between cheekiness and Grand Guignol (think "Re-Animator") — succeeds nicely.
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexuality and language
Rip Torn...Mr. Novak
A ContentFilm production, released by Vitagraph Films. Writer-director Robert Parigi. Producers Lawrence Levy, Kathleen Haase. Executive producers Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt, Alessandro Camon. Cinematographer Sidney Sidell. Editor Troy Takaki. Costume designer Victoria Auth. Music Nicholas Pike. Production designer Trae King. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.Exclusively at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-4010; and Laemmle's One Colorado Cinemas, 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena, (626) 744-1224.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times