Director: Seth W. Owen
Cast: Joe Cobden, Janine Theriault, Paul Spence and Howard Bilerman
Canada 2009, 84 mins.
Take an absurd premise, add an excellent cast, mix in some roof-top voyeurism, and you've got yourself a funny and disturbing mix of Canadian drama and comedy.
Steve Sherman (Joe Cobden) is a bit of a social misfit during the day, to say the least. But at night, when he's leading his own band of Lost Boys across the rooftops of the city to spy on unsuspecting men and women in various states of undress, he's King of the World. At least he is in his version of things.
And Steve's version of things is very, very important. Steve is the leader of the "Peepers," and it turns out peeping isn't a voyeuristic free-for-all. There is a strict "Peeper Code," for example, that regulates the group's conduct and distinguishes them from your garden-variety perverts and creeps. Maintaining the ethical standards of peeping is as important to Steve as peeping itself, and to taint the process also taints the participants.
Which is why Steve finds it completely unacceptable when a female nosey professor makes him and his band of peeps the subject of her anthropological research. Studying the behavior of the peepers as they study the behavior of others eventually leads to some disappearing boundaries for the arrogant professor and her subjects - much to the dismay of Steve and her tenure committee.
There's a Napoleon Dynamite-esque level of dead-on deadpan acting in Peepers that leaves both irony and uncomfortable moments quite raw. The writers, director and much of the cast consists of members of the Canadian arts troupe Automatic Vaudeville which has produced more than 100 independent films using local artists and crews from around Montreal for more than 10 years.
And while the premise of this particular Automatic Vaudeville film is absurd and paper thin, the characters (and respective actors) are 100 percent committed to seriousness, making for some very funny moments, along with some very uncomfortable ones.
Peepers is, at times, difficult to watch. It's embarrassing, painful and blatantly sad in turns - both in viewing those being watched by the peepers and in examining the voyeurs themselves. While the homage to Rear Window is both funny and poignant, looking too deeply at those who's most meaningful social interactions come from behind binoculars inevitably leads to some pretty dark places off and on rooftops.
Bottom line: It's a fine line between funny and sick. Peepers walks that tightrope with near-perfect precision.