Paul Verhoeven‘s erotic thriller got panned by critics back in 1992. Over the decades however, the cult classic has been praised as a genre changer by fans and compared to Hitchcock’s work, as if it’s a contemporary version of Vertigo. Can it stand the test of time or has ‘Basic Instinct‘ aged like milk?!
From its very first scene, Verhoeven (Elle) pulls you right into the action, when a steamy sex scene turns into a brutal murder, with an ice pick as the murder weapon. Interestingly, although we get to see the entire act, we still didn’t get to see the killer’s face. This allows us to investigate and doubt ourselves for the next two hours, tagging along with detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas – The Kominsky Method) in his investigation for a murderer on the loose.
Manipulative and seductive novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone – The Laundromat) is Curran’s prime suspect, and has the perfect alibi with the murder described into detail in one of her books, because which sane person would commit a murder after writing about it?! Digging deeper into her past, Curran gets seduced and goes back to his old habits of drinking and taking drugs, while Tramell starts using him to do research for her next novel.
The most famous interrogation scene in cinematic history put Sharon Stone deservedly on the map, and although the one thing people seem to remember is that “money shot”, it’s actually the way she uses her sexuality and interrogates the detectives, that makes this iconic scene so legendary. We never really know what to believe. Christine Tramell is designed to make us question her every move, because she loves to screw with people. At a certain point we even lean towards Nick Curran’s suspicious behaviour, that paints him as the true villain of the story, even if he’s not the killer.
Douglas and Stone’s on screen chemistry could make anyone sweat, with sex scenes that get steamier than your local bath house on a Friday night. Basic Instinct might be provocative to some, but you have to remember, these were the 90s. It even has some epic car chases, that uses San Francisco’s streets in a way I’ve never seen in any other film before.
This is one of Stone’s finest work on screen. Basic Instinct IS Sharon Stone. Jeanne Tripplehorn‘s (Mrs. America) Dr Beth Garner deserves some credit too. Her character gets pulled into all of this, while Catherine pulls Nick’s focus away from their sensual escapades. Without her, the story wouldn’t make any sense.
The late Jerry Goldsmith‘s Academy Award nominated music for the film was worthy of that golden statue. His score isn’t erotic in any way, but sets the mood with an urgent sense of danger. Having sex can get you killed in this movie, and that makes the film just so much more pleasurable. Verhoeven has always been the kind of director who doesn’t give any fucks about what anyone thinks. Every aspect of the film, from the music to the twists and even that final fade to black, are created to tease. Even if you already know the outcome of the story, Basic Instinct still has plenty of top-notch qualities to revisit this game changer.
Basic Instinct aka “Who’s Afraid of Catherine Woolf?” is a coked up 90s party in a church-turned-club-experience, where the lines between sleazy and erotic blur just as fast as waking up from a wet dream. Verhoeven created a glorious crime film that still holds up to this day.
Retro Review – ‘Basic Instinct’
Reviewed on Netflix, July 31, 2020, Belgium. Rating: 16+ Running time: 127 min.
PRODUCTION: A Carolco Pictures, Le Studio Canal+ production. Producer: Alan Marshall. Executive producer: Mario Kassar.
CREW: Director: Paul Verhoeven. Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas. Camera: Jan De Bont. Editor: Frank J. Urioste. Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
WITH: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, Bruce A. Young, Chelcie Ross, Dorothy Malone, Wayne Knight.