This review was corrected on Nov. 7, 2005.
Sixth and latest of Rob Nilsson’s gritty “9 @ Night” features, “Need” is the first primarily centered on female characters. All here work the sex trade — none happily, though helmer’s typical mixture of improv, stylized presentation and enigmatic narrative avoids tragic heart-of-gold cliche. Nilsson has been content thus far to allow these San Francisco-set, HD-shot, faintly interwoven dramas to get fleeting fest-circuit visibility. It is hoped when the last is finished (possibly next year), all nine will get the wider appreciation due them. Major fests might wisely begin jockeying now for the splash that premiering the complete series will create.
“Need” isn’t quite as striking or indelible as the best entries so far, but it’s atmospheric and powerful. Lou (Brette McCabe) is getting a bit old for the sex trade. She hasn’t helped her predicament by getting back on heroin — a relapse disapproved of even by her philosophically inclined dealer (David Fine).
She’s also decided to work the streets without paying a cut to the pimp (Marian Christian) who’s quite willing to brutalize any “girl” caught in such disobedience.
Lou’s daughter is beautiful blonde Jane (Marianne Heath), whose main gig is as a pole dancer in a strip club. She also participates — reluctantly — in the robbery schemes masterminded by Southern-accented pal Petite (Diane Gaidry).
Their usual scam is to lure a drunken john to a hotel room whose door one partner blocks open, so the other can sneak in and empty his wallet. When Jane finds something better to do, Petite tries holding up a client by herself, which turns out to be a bad idea.
Fourth femme principal is Francesca (Gabriela Maltz Larkin), who manages an escort/phone sex service that has employed the other three women. Large and plain, her resentment toward the others’ glamour becomes clear when Jane’s innocent date with the handsome wheelchair-dependent man (Cory Duval) Francesca platonically shares an apartment with brings about a hell-hath-no-fury response.
Though deliberate, the ambiguity of some relationships can frustrate; ditto the clarity of overlapping-dialogue sequences. Neatly cutting between different crises, “Need” reaches emotional peak one reel early, leaving the last 20 minutes feeling rambling and redundant.
Despite these imperfections, the pic fascinates with its credible low-key perfs, frank yet de-sensationalized situations, and slightly spectral atmosphere, much enhanced by Mickey Freeman’s noirish B&W photography on unfamiliar San Francisco locations.