Joe (Kip Pardue) just wants a drink, but his attempt to enter a club is thwarted by the antics of two girls in front of him clashing with the bouncer over their fake IDs. Allyson (Jordan Lane Price) and Brittany (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) draw Joe into their shenanigans, and soon the three are sharing spirits back at his apartment. They’re playful, mischievous and cagey about their ages, and while he’s wary of that last fact it’s clear he might be willing to take the risk of sleeping with one or both of them.
But is sex what the girls are after? Is Joe’s interest driven by their youth or by sheer desperation related to his current relationship? As the night goes on the various members of the trio seem at odds with each other’s intentions, and the competing desires never quite seem in sync – let alone completely clear.
The Nymphets begins at its most obnoxious point, and if you’ve seen Eli Roth’s Knock Knock the temptation might be to write this one off as a low-rent copycat – but don’t. Whereas Roth’s film features an abundance of annoying behavior married to some highly improbable but mildly entertaining genre trappings writer/director Gary Gardner’s feature debut uses a similar setup to tell a far richer and more satisfying tale. It’s a delicately crafted threesome with sexy, sad and awkward emotional fumblings in place of intertwined limbs resulting in an evening more chaotic and honest than anyone expects.
Joe’s job pays well, and his apartment is a showcase for a lifestyle he needs to maintain, and while the girls are alternately impressed and indifferent it’s unclear if their shifting impressions are just part of a game. They tease and cajole Joe with personal questions and comments that leave him excited and nervous, but they’re not prepared when he turns back it around on them. All of this works to add an undulating current of suspense as Joe, Allyson and Brittany take turns in positions of control leaving viewers uncertain as to who’s playing who, and small events – the girls’ discovery that Joe has a girlfriend, an unexpected visitor, a two-person motorcycle ride – send our expectations in entirely new directions.
Pardue is a solid actor delivering a strong performance here, and his presence feels like an intentional nod to his memorable scene in the woefully underseen Rules of Attraction. There he was a fearless and worldly playboy, but thirteen years later it’s easy to see Joe as a man who has settled into adulthood after an indiscretion-fueled youth only to see his hedonistic desires rising once again in the presence of two young, attractive, intoxicated women. We watch those impulses override his common sense and self-esteem as Pardue takes Joe from mere sad-sack to aggressively pathetic, and it hurts to watch his awkwardly desperate actions.
The two female leads are in their late twenties in real life but bring a wonderfully manic teenage sensibility to their performances, and it’s not difficult to see why an older man would be bewitched by them both. Dexter-Jones in particular exhibits an incredibly charismatic mischief in her eyes and the most addictive smile/nose-wrinkle pairing since Katie Holmes’ Dawson Creek days. More than that though, she shows a fragility beneath Brittany’s outer playfulness that occasionally breaks the surface and threatens to reveal her own truth.
At under eighty minutes the film doesn’t offer much time to seriously delve into the characters and their back-stories, but there’s enough here to understand and identify the needs that are driving them. Complicating things is the arrival of a fourth character who feels out of place both in dialogue and performance. The newcomer feels like an artificial addition as the film enters its third act, and it’s enough to suspect Gardner wasn’t confident he had enough material between his leads to reach the end credits. The new character’s presence doesn’t hurt the film, but little is added.
The Nymphets is a slyly sharp film that walks a fine line between seduction and loneliness – it’s tantalizing, depressing and refreshingly honest, sometimes all at once, and it ends with an inevitability that only one of them saw coming.
The Upside: Unpredictable; wonderfully awkward, sad and sexy; fantastic final moments; Annabelle Dexter-Jones’ infectious smile
The Downside: Super short running time; a late character addition fails to mesh with other performances