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Should I Watch..? 'Sliver'

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

Sliver is an erotic thriller film released in 1993 and is based on the 1991 novel of the same name by American author Ira Levin. The film concerns a young woman who moves into a new apartment in New York and begins a relationship with the building's owner, unaware that the building holds some deadly secrets. The film stars Sharon Stone, William Baldwin, Tom Berenger and Martin Landau and was directed by Phillip Noyce. The screenplay was written by Joe Eszterhas who, like Stone, was enjoying the peak of his popularity after the huge success of Basic Instinct which was released the year before. Sadly, this film did not enjoy the same levels of success - critics lambasted the film for its suspect acting and poor ending. Despite this, audiences flocked to see the film as it earned $123 million globally, topping the US box office in its opening week of release. In addition, the film was nominated for a number of Razzie awards, although it failed to win any.

Forgettable

What's it about?

Recently divorced book editor Carly Norris is attempting to move from her failed marriage and moves into a new apartment in New York, the prestigious sliver building 113. Her flat on the twentieth floor was previously occupied by another young woman, Naomi Singer, who not only bore a striking resemblance to Carly but fell to her death by falling from the apartment's balcony. While moving in, she meets some of the other occupants of the building - video game designer Zeke, novelist Jack, fashion model and occasional call-girl Vida and Gus, a professor of videology at New York University.

Shortly after she hosts a housewarming party, Carly finds herself drawn to Zeke and the two begin to have a passionate relationship. But there is a strange atmosphere in 113 - rumours that Naomi's death might not have been suicide continue to circulate among the community there while all the residents are secretly being watched and recorded by a voyeuristic antagonist, operating without their knowledge or consent. As Carly's life slowly begins to rebuild, she is unaware of the terrible danger she finds herself in...

Trailer

Main Cast

ActorRole

Sharon Stone

Carly Norris

William Baldwin

Zeke Hawkins

Tom Berenger

Jack Landsford

Polly Walker

Vida Warren

Martin Landau

Alex Parsons

Keene Curtis

Gus Hale

CCH Pounder

Lt. Victoria Hendrix

Technical Info

DirectorPhillip Noyce

Screenplay

Joe Eszterhas*

Running Time

107 minutes

Release Date (UK)

3rd September, 1993

Rating

18

Genre

Drama, Erotic, Thriller

Razzie Award Nominations

Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Baldwin), Worst Actress (Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Berenger), Worst Supporting Actress (Colleen Camp), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay

Stone (left) is unable to replicate the electric chemistry she had with Michael Douglas with William Baldwin - and it shows.

Stone (left) is unable to replicate the electric chemistry she had with Michael Douglas with William Baldwin - and it shows.

What's to like?

Made during the height of Stone's phase as Hollywood's leading lady, Sliver is a fairly by-the-numbers thriller that doesn't push boundaries in the same way that the much more successful Basic Instinct did. While it might not give Stone much of a character to get her teeth into, she still sizzles on screen in a way that few actresses ever manage in their careers - let alone for a sustained period in the way Stone managed. She certainly outshines her co-stars who feel underwritten and often underused, criminally so in the case of the veteran Landau. Like so many of Basic Instinct's imitators, the film has the usual glossy feel of a Nineties thriller featuring apartments with decor far too expensive for the character to realistically afford and a theme tune more recognisable and memorable than the film itself - UB40's cover of Can't Help Falling In Love.

Other than that, there is little here to get too excited about. It's a frustrating film because while it's bad, it isn't terrible. Besides Stone fulfilling the dreams of every hormonal teenager with a pause button, the film is a lurid and faintly ridiculous adaptation of a book that must surely be better than this film suggests. It has all the hallmarks of an Eszterhas script and while some of his films have now somehow become cult viewing due to their sheer awfulness (Showgirls, I'm thinking of you here), Sliver is somehow sleazy and boring at the same time. In a strange way, that's almost an achievement in itself. If you're a fan of Eszterhas' sensationalist work then you might take away more from this film than I did. Personally, it left me depressed and if I were Levin then I would be annoyed that my book examining the insidious perils of technology had been turned into yet another bonk-buster.

Fun Facts

  • The film's original ending featured a helicopter flying over an active volcano but during filming, the helicopter crashed and all footage was lost. Fortunately, nobody was killed but the crystal volcano in Zeke's room is a reference to this.
  • Stone and Baldwin disliked each other so much that they both asked for their scenes to be shot separately wherever possible. In fact, Stone bit Baldwin's tongue so hard during the filming of a kissing scene that he couldn't talk for a few days afterwards.
  • Needing to come up with a new ending after the aborted volcano filming, Eszterhas produced no less than five in the space of three days. However, his script got changed so much that he now hates the film. The revised script called for Berenger and Walker to appear in S&M gear and Baldwin to appear fully naked from the front - all three of them refused, however.

What's not to like?

The script is the film's biggest problem although it's far from the only one. The film is littered with technobabble and erotically charged dialogue that people just do not say in real life, not without sounding like... well, Joe Eszterhas probably! It's reminiscent of Showgirls but without the bright lights and gaudy excesses Las Vegas has to offer, instead being a predictable and very silly murder mystery in which you'll spot the culprit in seconds. The film doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before and what's worse, the film's cast seem to be phoning in their performances. Stone works really hard to make her character work but she never fully convinces us that she is an introverted bookworm, possibly due to the memories of Catherine Tramell still not leaving the audience. Baldwin is unable to replicate the charm of his brother Alec nor the chemistry Stone shared with Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. And Berenger... well, let's just say that he couldn't be a more obvious suspect if he had the word 'killer' tattooed onto his forehead.

Sliver tried too hard to repeat the financial success and media controversy of its spiritual forebear but it falls embarrassingly short. Devoid of any pace or sense of menace, the film is a limp thriller that confuses and disappoints its audience at every turn. With a much tighter script that stayed closer to Levin's novel, we might have had a half-decent film that was more than just an excuse for big-screen titillation. If anything, it reminded me more of the equally disastrous Basic Instinct 2 - enticing its audience in with promises of shameless displays of sexiness before becoming a boring and slightly demented thriller that can't help but feel like a letdown.

Morgan Court in New York, the site of the titular 'sliver' building.

Morgan Court in New York, the site of the titular 'sliver' building.

Should I watch it?

Unless you haven't seen any of the myriad of erotic thrillers that emerged from the Nineties, I'd stay away from Sliver which is unlikely to be considered cult viewing in the way other Eszterhas films have. Distinctly underwhelming despite its lurid atmosphere, the film won't be appearing too high on anyone's CV as it's a forgettable and derivative outing for talent in front and behind the camera. In short, if you're looking for a film of this type then there are far better options available to you.

Great For: teenage boys, Joe Eszterhas' reputation as a glorified smut peddler, disappearing from your memory

Not So Great For: furthering careers, Ira Levin's book sales, people who don't listen to critics

What else should I watch?

If we consider Basic Instinct to be the template for the slew of erotic thrillers that were released in its wake (because, quite frankly, it is), what are the best efforts to try and catch? Probably the most interesting is Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's final film that featured then-couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a married couple coming apart at the seams. It might not be the director's finest hour but it knocks spots off other films such as Jade or Never Talk To Strangers. Wild Things was just as lurid as an Eszterhas script but it solidified Denise Richards as a sex symbol for the 21st century (for a while, anyway) as well as being a semi-decent thriller in and of itself.

But the hard fact of the matter is that the phrase 'erotic thriller' is now essentially shorthand for a underwhelming thriller with needlessly explicit nudity or scenes of a sexual nature. Even experienced actresses like Meg Ryan find their career juddering to a halt after she was cast against type in In The Cut although it doesn't always spell disaster - Angelina Jolie survived appearing in lavish bodice-ripper Original Sin. And while her career was already on life-support by the time she popped up in the laughable The Canyons, Lindsay Lohan decided it would be better to pull the plug on her respirator out and smother it with a pillow.

© 2020 Benjamin Cox