Review: European drama ‘Sex Doll’ is a meandering take on a high-end call girl

It’s hard to get excited about Sex Dolls, an anti-romantic drama with erotic thriller aspirations. Like its temperamental young call girl, writer-director Sylvie Verheyde’s look at the shadowy world of high-end prostitution in London offers more possibilities than rewards.  sex dolls
For Virginie (Hafsia Herzi), a striking Frenchwoman working for an escort service run by the tough but tender Raphäelle (Karole Rocher), her life is little more than a string of trite sex – and not particularly sexy – with most older British attempts. She’s one of those “nobodies”; where she came from – and how she got here – is rarely discussed.
Matching Virginie’s mystique is Rupert (Ash Stymest), an Englishman with runway model looks and messy tattoos, whom she meets at a nightclub. Turns out they are kindred spirits, outlaws in a way, and they develop an uncertain, slow-moving relationship.
But a revelation in the middle divides Rupert and Virginie, and boundaries are drawn. Until an out-of-town sex date pairs Virginie and novice escort Sofia (Ira Max) with a wealthy father-son duo that goes awry, testing Virginie’s commitment to Rupert and her career.
‘Sex Doll’: Film Review
In Sylvie Verheyde’s erotic thriller “Sex Doll,” a high-rent prostitute has a romantic relationship with a man who harbors a secret.
Depending on your point of view, the title of Sylvie Verheyde’s thriller is the least raunchy thing about it, which would be a plus or a minus. But despite the film’s admirable non-exploitative approach, this story about a French prostitute who has a romantic relationship with a mysterious stranger is too lackluster in its pacing and narrative style. Too self-consciously artsy to appeal to the horny and lacking enough substance for cinephiles, Sex Dolls seems deflated by the time you watch it.
César winner Hafsia Herzi (“The Secret of the Grain”) plays the central role of Virginie, a beautiful girl who works as a high-priced call girl in London. Her protective madam (Karole Rocher) has an unbreakable rule for her employees that they must not become attached to their clients. This is not a problem for the chicly black-clad Virginie, whose lack of enthusiasm for her work is clearly evident in her bored, detached facial expressions as she serves men in a series of sex scenes that have an anti-aphrodisiac effect.
Virginie’s natural reserve melts away when she meets Rupert (male model Ash Stymest, making his film debut), a handsome, heavily tattooed Englishman who stalks her to a nightclub. The two soon begin a romantic relationship, but it turns out that her new lover has a secret. His mission to save young women from the world of sex trafficking (and now a job with no shortage of applicants) is complicated when he finds himself falling in love.
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Despite its provocative premise, “Sex Doll” is not interesting enough in terms of characters or storyline, and the filmmakers’ stylized, slow-burn approach leads to a prolonged sense of tedium. The lead actors give impeccable performances and certainly don’t make it hard to watch. But their efforts aren’t enough to move this moody erotic thriller beyond its pretentiousness.

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