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Featured Review

Challengers ★★★★



Released: 26 April 2024

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist

Slow-paced sweat drips are part of the memo in Challengers, amongst other things such as deep intense tennis moans and death glares. When the trailer dropped for the film, using Rhianna’s 2010 iconic tune S&M, we already knew anxieties were about to be heightened in the most erotic way. Competitiveness is something that is always going to generate tension amongst the best of us, but within the film its with a sultry, sweat-lust twist. Put what you know about tennis to the back of your mind, as this is no ordinary tale of two former friends going up against each other. This is a sexy retelling of a love triangle involving one female champion whose desire to win at every opportunity, comes with the price tag of sexual intensity.

Guadagnino’s previous film, Bones and All (2022) starring Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell as two teen-cannibals in love and on the run had heart at its core but lacked the potential to really get under the skin of the characters. The same went for his take on remaking Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria in 2018, whilst each frame was stunning something just felt missing. Now, setting his sights on sport, tennis in particular, the director is at the top of his game creating something out of the ordinary and unique.

Best friends Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mark Faist) are the newbies on the court, setting their sights on rising star Tashi (Zendaya). As a female protagonist she’s feisty, with every move calculated to stay on top. The boys invite Tashi to their hotel room, bewildered by the fact she turns up and insists on both pleasuring her and themselves. Before leaving she says she will give her number to whoever wins the next match, with every muscle feeling the angst and pressure to secure the digits. The threesome’s relationship after becomes an entanglement for the ages, body aching tension, sportsmanship that unravels all vendettas – it’s all so juicy.

There is a consistent time hopping throughout the film that ends with us exploring Patrick and Art’s present day battle of who’s the man of the match. While going back to the last decade proves there is a lot of hurt generated through the sport and their lust for Tashi, it can almost feel clunky at times. The pair smash the balls towards one another like they are gunning for a physical altercation, it’s sexy whilst always anxiety inducing. Guadagnino’s use of slow motion of the ball really amps up the momentum of who will settle the score – Patrick, the arrogant player with a gleaming grin, or Art who is trying to slow down into retirement, but is still driven by the thought of Tashi leaving him if he loses another match. O’Connor and Faist’s on-screen chemistry with one another is ground-breaking, and if anything it needed to be explored further. The same goes for Zendaya and her character Tashi – she’s a powerhouse despite not being able to play professionally anymore due to a leg injury, if looks were deadly, we’d better run in the opposite direction. Whilst Tashi is the manipulator of the threesome, we almost don’t get enough screen time with her to really dig deep into how far she can take the pair.

What makes the film as edgy and different as any other sports films we have come in contact with is the incorporation of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s techno based, rave induced score. It’s electrifying. Challengers may occasionally lack dialogue, but instead of that making the film feel dense, it allows it to really step into its own world with the use of the thumping score, and Guadagnino’s carefully directed slow-mo’s. It’s a rush of hormones that makes you itch for more.

Luca Guadagnino proves he’s one of the ‘top seeds’ with Challengers, creating a film that will go down as one of his best pieces of work. It’s a mischievous piece of filmmaking, at times feeling like the end game is life or death. Hollywood at the moment is lacking originality from all directions, but with this film anything is possible and it is truly refreshing.

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