Zola (2020)

August 4th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Janicza Bravo; Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Brown, Colman Domingo; USA 2020, 96 min.

Sex has never been so ugly in this rollercoaster ride on the sleazy side that makes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers look like a film for kids. Sexploitation, kidnapping and a suicide attempt are just some of the highlights of this unsavoury tale, teetering self-parody and something much nastier. It’s the work of Janicza Brava who directs a script by Jeremy O. Harris, and the author of the original 148 tweets, A’Ziah King.

Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that Jim Thompson got the same treatment of disbelief from the established literati, back in the day (never mind during his lifetime) and his books are now sought after cult classics, analysed by academics.

Trailer trash white stripper/hooker Stefani (Keough) picks up titular waitress Zola (Paige) and they set off for Florida where they will be well paid well for working the poles, although they have to contend with Stefani’s nerdy boyfriend Derrek (Brown) who whinges non-stop. But when Zola sees X (Domingo), Stefani’s pimp, she gets cold feet: this is prostitution of the most sordid kind. Taking pity on Stefani, she organises more lucrative tricks which pay $500 instead of150, X is impressed and makes Zola his deputy.

Whenever Zola has to watch any bodily contact, she spits out “Gross” and turns her back on all kinds of graphic degradation – including Derrek’s suicide attempt: half desperation, half cry for help, which defines very much the whole enterprise.

DoP Ari Wegner just lets the camera roam around the sleaziness of it all, the scenes in the dystopian luxury hotels are a treat, and his night images on the road are some of the best recently commited to celluloid. Meanwhile Paige clearly enjoys every second, and so does Keough, who just gets the balance right between vulnerability and arrant naughtiness. When it comes to women’s sexual depravity it appears they are worse than men –  there are simply no limits for bad taste. No one can pretend its in any way a critique of anything: This is X-rated stuff with a mental health warning, but just enjoy the spectacle and have fun AS

In cinemas from 6 AUGUST 2021

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