Mope Review

The Steve Driver story is one of the strangest true-crime tales of the past couple decades. Taking place in the world of low-rent fetish porn, it concerns a wannabe porn actor who, after trying and failing to make a name for himself, became increasingly unhinged, murdering his best friend with a sword before killing himself by falling off a cliff, surrounded by police. The story is so packed with bizarre details, and it’s the kind of thing that could only be either a true story or a fiction from a seriously deranged mind.

It’s fitting, then, that Lucas Heyne’s Mope – a dramatisation of Steve Driver’s story – is both one of the funniest movies of the year, and a movie that will make you absolutely fucking despise yourself and all humanity. Not many films have started this funny and uplifting, while ending this bleak and depressing.

Mope opens on a room full of dudes absent-mindedly masturbating. They’re not trying to climax; they’re just maintaining erections. Then an alarm sounds, and the men are ushered into the next room, where a porn actress waits on her knees. For these men are “mopes”: the interchangeable penises used in bargain-basement porn acts, in this case a bukkake scene. Steve (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, intense at all times), a particularly sweaty mope, has trouble finishing himself off; only with a motivational pep talk from fellow mope Tom Dong (Kelly Sry, earnest and lovable) can he complete his task and collect his paltry payment. Making fast friends, Steve and Tom join Ultima DVD, a bottom-of-the-barrel fetish company, and attempt to climb the ladder to make their pornstar dreams come true.

Premiering at this year’s Sundance film festival, Mope is a film that seems destined to remain on the festival circuit until it disappears, only spoken of in whispers. It’s virtually un-distributable. For one thing, the movie is filled with nudity and sex, never glorified and often rendered disgusting and unpleasant, ranging all the way to the extreme end of the fetish spectrum. The art direction and cinematography add no sheen to the proceedings whatsoever

At first, this works for comedy. Our two leads quickly bond over their shared love of porn, discussing their favourite actors, series, and directors with the machine-gun patter of film nerds at Comic-Con. Their early adventures in porn are hilarious, as they quickly discover that their skill level and attractiveness only really befit ball-kicking fetish videos. They stick with it, though: no pornographic indignity inflicted by shitty porn mogul Eric (comic character actor Brian Huskey, adding to his library of hilarious douchebags) is too extreme to be endured for the sake of pursuing their dreams. 

Believe it or not, the pair’s commitment to their dreams even lends the film an inspirational quality early on. The actors’ sheer joy and excitement is as infectious as syphilis, their chemistry palpable. As they outline their futures together while overlooking the San Fernando Valley, the camera fuzzes the background into haze, focusing us on the dream of porn superstardom as intently as they are. So convinced are they of their destiny, we want them to succeed, and we’re willing to stick with them through the hard yards. 

But then the movie slides sickeningly into the second reason why any significant release seems unlikely: this is a movie about bad people doing bad things to each other, and it makes you feel bad watching it. A mid-film excursion into the world of high-end commercial porn is facilitated only by a series of lies, and ends with humiliation for all involved; things only go downhill from there. As Steve and Tom keep desperately trying and failing to force their careers into gear, their relationship becomes laced with anger, resentment, and jealousy. Steve lies to his boss; he lies to his family; he lies to his best friend. And when Steve’s behaviour becomes so toxic that he’s kicked out of the company, while Tom is kept on as a web technician, his obsession turns violent.

Pulling off a tonal switch like this isn’t easy, and it’s not a decision most filmmakers would make. For the most part, Heyne succeeds, but there’s more depth that could have been plumbed here. Mope’s biggest issue is also one of its back-of-the-box features, so it’s hard to tell whether it’s a failing of the film or simply a case of the director’s intent clashing with the audience’s taste. The film leans extremely hard into the weirdness and suffering inherent in its story, to the point that it sacrifices something in its characters’ development. There’s only one significant female character in the film, a deadbeat mother and meth addict who first appears in the second half of the film. She exists solely to provide a trashy outlet for Driver’s self-directed porn ambitions, and to act as a means through which to depict his worst and most delusional tendencies. And Steve himself perhaps suffers the most.

Heyne is so bent on showing us the depths of Driver’s pornographic and interpersonal depravity that he forgets to let us into his psychology. There’s some fascinating emotional storytelling to be done here, but much of it takes place offscreen. A key piece of backstory – a campus attack that saw Driver convicted of assault – is only told to us through Tom’s discovery of it. As a result, Driver himself is something of a cipher leading up to the film’s bloody conclusion. Incredibly, it’s only in this final descent that shock value seems to be the film’s intent. It’s certainly shocking, but it could have been both shocking and something greater than that. By the end of the movie, we have zero sympathy for this monster.

I challenge anyone with an ounce of empathy to watch Mope and not come out at the end feeling dirty. Dirty, in the sense that you’ve just watched something that edges very closely to being a particularly grotty porn movie; and dirty, in the sense that you’ve witnessed such emotional torment and betrayal that all of humanity seems forsaken. You’ll need a palate-cleanser after this one. I do not recommend pornography.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Andrew is a creative professional from New Zealand, living in Montreal, with an American accent, which always confuses people.