Bordello (2023) Review
New Mexico 1889, Enoch (Kris Holden-Ried, Lost Girl, Underworld: Awakening) runs a bordello with his five girls Esi (Nisa Gunduz, Designated Survivor, Swindler Seduction), Tara (Camille Stopps, Alive, 22 Chaser), Ada (Heidi von Palleske, My Animal, Ankle Biters), Precious (Jessica Danecker, Fight!, Night Drive), and Martha (Hailey Summer, Lovekill, The Manny). There’s one other girl that lives there, seven-year-old Angel (Brooklyn Popp) who they’ve taken care of since her mother died.
The gold rush is just a memory and money is harder to come by but Enoch still dreams of striking it rich and relocating operations to Alaska. But in the here and now he owes a large sum of money to Sheriff Amshell (Frank J. Zupancic, The Fight Machine, Killer God). That’s a debt he could repay by taking up an offer from Madame Gabi (Diana Goldman, Defective, The Water’s Fine) who wants to add Angel to her stable.
Director Carlo Liconti (Undertaker, Perpetual Motion) and writer Daniel Matmor (Night Terrors, Homeboyz II: Crack City) open Bordello with a sense of contained despair. The bordello itself is an old mansion that has seen better days and the same can be said for its occupants. More than one of them is showing their age and the lack of income has them, and Enoch, snapping at each other.
We can tell that for the most part, they do care about each other, and the stress is making them snap. It’s also clear that the one thing that truly unites them is Angel and their desire to see that she has a future that doesn’t involve child prostitution. But circumstances make it easy to believe that Enoch is willing to literally sell her out in order to realize his own dreams. And it’s that suspicion that drives Bordello’s plot to its climax.
Bordello is at its best when it focuses on the dynamics between the main characters. Despite being a western, or at least set in the old west, it’s mostly a drama and an entertaining one. There’s a bit of humour scattered through it, such as one of the girls’ surprise to find that a Jewish customer doesn’t have a tail. It’s both funny and a timely reminder of just how outrageous something can be, yet still be believed.
While it does tie up the film’s various plot strands and provide the viewers with most of the action the film offers, Bordello’s ending does feel a bit rushed. Letting it play out over a few minutes would have been more satisfying. As it stands it feels abrupt like they suddenly found themselves short of cash or time and had to do a condensed version.
The cast does a good job of making the characters with Heidi von Palleske standing out as Ada, the oldest of the bordello’s working girls as well as a leader/mother figure to some of them. Frank Zupancic is coldly menacing as the trigger-happy sheriff, he makes a solid antagonist and I wouldn’t have minded if he’d had a bit more screen time.
The sets look a bit more aged and worn than the usual old west tourist traps that tend to get used in low-budget horse operas. Cinematographer Ludek Bogner whose career stretches back to One Man Out, Animorphs, and the Heather Thomas vampire flick Red Blooded American Girl makes good use of the sets and gives it all a believably naturalistic look. As noted there isn’t much in the way of action and effects are limited to some brief CGI bullet hits.
As long as you keep in mind that this is a western drama, not a shoot ’em up, Bordello should satisfy viewers looking for something a little different.