Destined to be one of the year’s most provocative releases, April Mullen’s Below Her Mouth is an erotic tour de force of uninhibited filmmaking exploring the nature of intimacy, sexuality, and the female gaze led by two extraordinary performances by Erika Linder and Natalie Krill. Dallas (Linder) is a young roofer making her living in Toronto; early in the film she proves to be emotionally unavailable as she abruptly breaks up with her yuppie girlfriend Joslyn (Mayko Nguyen) and moves out into a studio apartment. While on a job in an upscale neighborhood she encounters Jasmine (Krill), a young fashion editor that’s about to be engaged to Rile (Sebastain Pigott), who by all measures seems to be a decent man, invested in their relationship even if he’s unable to offer the kind of connection and emotional support she longs for.
Out one evening on the town with a friend, Jasmine encounters Dallas in a lesbian night club and the two begin a courtship once the desire proves to be too strong. Below Her Mouth gleefully and unapologetically is not about the performance of modes of representing one’s sexuality nor is it the typical coming out story. The film is instead a kind of psycho-sexual thriller as Jasmine and Dallas’ attraction and obsession grows into something darker as they are pulled apart in a plot point right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel (here, though, taken to a dark extreme as Dallas wonders beyond to a relic of seedy Toronto). Below Her Mouth represents raw desire and sexual intimacy as successfully as it can be represented on screen. However, it is slightly less successful in its exploration of emotional intimacy: once orgasm is achieved, guilt overcomes Jasmine. Dallas seems to know this territory well and the picture works best when it is its most minimal, relying on the body language of its leads as self expression.
Working from a script by Stephanie Fabrizi that at times feels a little too raw, with dialogue that occasionally distracts in just how direct it is, Mullen’s direction is quite extraordinary, choreographing frantic, exhausting sexuality free from a male gaze. The lens is surely what separates the brief Below Her Mouth from the sprawling Blue is the Warmest Color as Dallas unapologetically lives in moment, always on the run until she encounters Jasmine, perhaps one of the first women in her life to play hard to get. The arc of the drama is Jasmine’s sexual awakening, arriving in her 30s as she unpacks repressed feelings. Dallas, meanwhile, chooses to repress her “coming out story” because, as she insightfully states, that she is always coming out depending on how she chooses to present herself on that given day.
Filmed with an entirely female crew — including cinematographer Maya Bankovic, whose stark compositions offer a contrast between the dark clubs, alleyways, and neon street lights juxtaposed with the light, airy world Jasmine and fiancé Rile embody — Below Her Mouth is sexy and captivating, telling a familiar story with a fresh sexual frankness. Announcing a bold new cinematic voice in its director, April Mullen, the film recalls the kind of aggressive poetry of Andrea Arnold without an critique of class structure. Jasmine and Dallas are successful professionals that find an atomic bomb-like emotional and sexual level gratification in an exhilarating and often thrilling exploration of fulfillment.
Below Her Mouth opens in limited release and VOD on April 28.