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Review: MOPE (2019) – Toronto True Crime Film Festival

Mope is apparently a term used to describe the porn industry’s wannabes. The guys who don’t quite have what it takes, but are willing to be exploited for the chance to get their break. It’s also the debut feature by Lucas Heyne, a film that starts out feeling like Boogie Nights before turning much darker. It’s also a rare case of a film “based on true events” that actually is based on true events.

Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, The Kid Who Would Be King) and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry, Shark Night) are best friends and mopes. Tom designs websites for the porn industry. Steve works as a janitor at the studio in return for a place to stay and the occasional bit part.

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Although the work Eric (Brian Huskey), the studio’s scumbag owner gives them is demeaning, they see it as the first step to making their dreams come true. But when Steve blows a shot at a gig with a bigger porn producer Rocket (David Arquette, Bone Tomahawk, The Tripper) things rapidly sour. It all with tears, blood, and a samurai sword.

Mope is a buddy comedy but of a very darkly humorous variety. It’s also a serious look at what happens when someone with obvious mental issues is exploited rather than given the help they need. And, perhaps inevitably, it’s another expose of the porn industry. It’s centred around two excellent performances by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Kelly Sry.

They’re engaging enough that we root for them. Even while we recognize, they don’t have a chance in hell of success. Thankfully, both the script and their performances hit the right balance between these two elements. And even after it’s obvious that Steve is going off the rails, he isn’t played as a typical psycho. Stranger and creepy, yes but, it doesn’t go the obvious route with the character.

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In the end, Mope is much more serious and emotional than you would expect from a film that starts with a bukkake scene. Based on this film, I’d say Lucas Heyne is a director to keep an eye on. He has a talent for pulling feelings out of the most unexpected scenes.

Mope is on the festival circuit, including a screening at the Toronto True Crime Film Festival. You can check for other screenings on its Facebook page.

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