A man and a woman meet in a bar and indulge in a bit of seductive flirtation… until it emerges that they’re a long-term couple, Ben and Dani, and this is a game they play to keep things interesting between them.
But one night, the game gets out of hand and veers off into an unexpected direction — one that forces long-simmering resentments to the surface and brings the true nature of their relationship to light.
Directed by Armen Antrani, from a short story by Nick Antosca, this decidedly mature and dark psychological drama harkens back to decadent, provocative thrillers like 9 1/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal and Basic Instinct. Like these films, this is a story where sex is a battleground for the twisted, intricate power plays between troubled, often compulsive souls.
It is also compulsively entertaining and crafted with a sense of sheen and gloss, reflecting a bewitching yet ominous take on its Los Angeles setting. Dreamily lit with an eye for narcotic, shimmering beauty and with often sinuous camerawork, the production values are feature-worthy, casting a hypnotic visual spell.
While the visual approach seduces and beguiles, the film also relies on meticulous, precise writing and performances that bring it to life. The powerful undertow of the film’s story is the mind games that Ben and Dani play with one another, with each move and ploy unearthing darker and deeper drives within each character.
Actors Jeff Ward and Sophie Kargman both deftly play up the dangerous, sexy side of the story, but they’re also both able to uncover the beats of vulnerability, anger and pain that arise between them as they make moves against one another, making their gambits, not just about sex and power, but trust, love and attachment. As both become more invested in the emerging play for dominance between them, they spiral downward, altering the shape and terrain of their relationship in seemingly irrevocable ways.
“The Girlfriend Game” glosses its story with an alluring, provocative surface, playing up the decadence and erotic thrills of the game at the center of the story. But like a cold, harsh morning after, the ending after the night’s psychosexual, even surreal journey is disquieting, both for the characters and the audience. For Ben and Dani, their game has revealed their dark sides as people and opened up a new chapter in their relationship — and neither has any idea what is in store, only perhaps a sense of something lost somewhere in the night.