The sexiness in the film is all part of a larger performance, revealed as we discover the many layers of the plot. Everyone in Wild Things is a devious actor -- Suzie most of all. The titillating scenes are just one more way that the characters exert power over one another, and the film seduces the audience into following along. There’s even a clever bit of homage to the erotic thriller genre in the casting: Theresa Russell, who played a murderous femme fatale in Black Widow, is Kelly’s wealthy and salacious mother. Each character here is provocative in his or her own way.
Erotic thrillers tend to borrow heavily from film noir, and like noir, a depraved atmosphere lingers throughout. The score is sultry and swaying, and the Florida palette is sunny in a way that feels oppressive yet postcard-ready. Suzie is essentially a con woman extraordinaire, and anyone will tell you that to create an effective con film, the director must also con the audience.
And so Wild Things cons us, pulling us in with scandal and sex, then peeling back layers of intrigue. It’s crucial to the film’s enduring appeal that a high-school girl seen by her peers as white trash turns out to be a criminal mastermind – without Suzie’s scheming use of her feminine powers Wild Things would be firmly on the guilt side of the guilty pleasure spectrum (or beyond it, where the film's three direct-to-DVD sequels -- including the bluntly titled Wild Things: Foursome --- dwell). Twenty years later, being conned by this sparkling piece of self-aware trash is still a genuine pleasure.
Wild Things is available to rent on all major platforms, and streamable on Starz.