Quid Pro Quo (2008)
Great progress has been made in how our society treats people with disabilities. There are laws in place to prevent discrimination, specialized access in public areas and buildings and even regulations for such necessities as bathrooms. As a person who is handicapped I can appreciate these changes first hand. If you become disabled you cannot imagine the changes it would make on the simplest of routine activities. Something as normal as popping out to the local market for a container of milk may become a daunting task. You would think that no one would ever purposely want to be handicapped. The plot of the film ‘Quid Pro Quo’ is based on the exact opposite. Here there is an underground cult that either emulates disabilities or in the most extreme cases induces handicaps. It is possible that such a group of people exist. With the all pervasive access and popularity of the internet people with extremely esoteric proclivities now have a way to communicate with other, like minded people. It would appear that the motto of the web is ‘if you have a perversion we have your diversion.’ People have always engaged in some pretty strange fetishes. There are the more common ones such as feet, leather and others that have made its way in the more mainstream knowledge but this movie chooses a fetish that would seem beyond believability. The thing it human sexuality is there are probably people into things you could never have imagined in your wildest fantasies. This film is strange, dark and extremely disturbing to view. Although there are many flaws in the presentation this film does demonstrate one of the best attributes of the independent film; pushing the limits of cinema. It is very unlikely that any major studio would consider a movie with this topic. It is going to appeal to a smaller audience than they would like. This film is for those would want to see a movie that goes beyond the usual into a possible part of society they have never considered before.
The film was written and directed by Carlos Brooks. This is his freshman opus in both fields. Some extra credit has to be given to him for taking on such an upsetting and potentially controversial topic his first time out of the gate. He could have gone the usual horror flick route to get his film career started but Brooks decided to take on something that is rarely seen in any type of film. There is an obvious connection to the David Cronenberg film from 1996, ‘Crash’ which is not to be confused with the 2004 Academy Award winner of the same name. In the Cronenberg ‘Crash’ he delves into a bizarre world of people who are sexually aroused by car crashes. There a television director is pulled into the fetish and all the sexual trappings that surround it. Here Brooks uses a radio reporter who is confined to a wheelchair. He starts to investigate a story about people who want healthy limbs amputated. This sparks his curiosity and he finds that he is becoming part of the story instead of just an observer and reporter. Because of the subject matter this film is inherently difficult to watch. What does provide value as a piece of cinema is the fact that ultimately it is a good old fashion mystery that just happens to be set in an unthinkable fetish sub culture. In some ways this is reminiscent of the 2000 movie, ‘Mercy’. The perversion and sexual deviancy is more of the setting that the actual focus of the story. There are some missteps in the screenplay that almost destroy the continuity of the plot. When the handicapped protagonist puts on a special pair of shoes he finds he can once again feel his legs and stand up. There is an out for those that chose not to believe in the supernatural here that the man had hysterical paralysis in the first place. The main point of the scene is to set up a role reversal with the woman he is involved with who dreams of being in a wheelchair. Brooks’ story does this a few times; goes to the brink of the impossible and then pulls the audience back to a stark reality.
As a director Brooks still has a learning curve ahead. He does well in pacing the film which is especially notable in the first act of the film. During the time that the protagonist and the audience first learn of the fetish Brooks takes it slowly. He doesn’t just dump the audience into the midst of this strange world. He gives us enough time to become acclimated to the fetish before he discloses the full extent that these people is willing to go to achieve their bizarre goals. What really goes a long way to sell this film is the cast. Brooks make the best possible use of this talented group of actors possible. The lead roles go to Nick Stahl, as the handicapped reporter, Isaac and Vera Farmiga, as Fiona, the woman who wants to spend her life in a wheelchair. Both are very experienced actors who are used to out of the ordinary roles. Stahl recently had a fantastic role in the late HBO series Carnivàle. Since legs are very important to the plot Brooks uses a subtle visual technique to highlight this. Fiona tends to wear textured stockings with elaborate, lacy designs. You cannot help but to notice her legs as she walks around. It also slams home the point that a beautiful able bodied young woman like Fiona would want her legs to be useless.
Isaac Knott (Stahl) is an on air radio reporter for a New York City public radio station. He has been disabled since he was eight years old due to a car crash that killed his parents. He is able to navigate the city with amazing skill although cabs are reluctant to pick him up. One day he gets a message from someone who calls herself ‘Ancient Chinese Girl’. She tells him about an able body man who tried to bribe a surgeon to amputate a perfectly healthy leg. Wanting to know more Isaac presses his informant for more information and she leads him to a support group for people who want to be handicapped. They gather together to use wheelchairs and crutches in private. He eventually discovers that his source is the beautiful Fiona (Farmiga) who works in the museum restoring ancient Asia artifacts. She is part of this fetish cult and desires to be paralyzed. Isaac begins a relationship with her that soon turns sexual and hid finds himself being drawn deeper into her world.
This film is being released to DVD by Magnolia Home Entertainment. They have a reputation of unearthing films from the Indy world and festival circuit and make them available to the general public. Like many films in their DVD catalog this one is probably unheard of by most people. Although strange and dark it does have some amazing performances that make this movie worth you time. If you are in the mood for something completely different then give this a try.