Before the success of The Matrix catapulted them into global superstardom and quite possibly made them both certifiably insane, the Wachowski siblings made their directorial debut with a low-budget independent thriller that rode on the 90s wave of violent crime drama, but stood out from its various peers due to its notable stylistic flourishes and an unusually healthy attitude to lesbian relationships. It seems strangely dated today as a film, feeling a little like a Tarantino knock-off, but it’s still unusual enough to maintain a certain interest and its sapphic sex-positive approach is worth reflecting on given recent developments in Lana Wachowski’s personal life. She is the only mainstream Hollywood director to have publicly identified as transgender, and although it might be reaching a little it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that this might have informed this film’s very positive and constructive approach to LGBT issues.

The central relationship between its two female leads was very well-received by many vocal members of the lesbian and bisexual community at the time, heralded as an unusually accurate representation of such by Hollywood standards. This seems to have been a key issue for the Wachowskis, as they actually hired sex education activist Susie Bright to choreograph the sex scenes and oversee the general representation of the protagonists. Also, they apparently could have made the film with a much bigger budget had their two leads been a more traditional heterosexual couple, so they clearly wanted to make the movie stand out precisely for these reasons. But there’s obviously much more to the film than all that – it also has a deliciously dark streak of humour that helps distract from a fairly underwritten plot and some weirdly excessive violence. It also has a very defined, almost comic-book visual style that you can clearly see on the verge of exploding with The Matrix just three years later, giving more psychological insight into two filmmakers who would go on to define mainstream American action cinema in the new millennium.

The kind of violent crime thriller that was ubiquitous in the 90s5
An early indicator of the style that the Wachowskis would later develop8
Realistic and respectful portrayal of lesbian relationships and sex9
Some very subtle subtext and sapphic symbolism8
Strange, unsettlingly over-the-top violence7
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

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