One of the big name auteur’s at this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival is Atom Egoyan (not in person), with his latest Chloe. A sexual drama that bears a dubious reputation from its round on the festival circuit last year, it was adapted from 2003′s star-studded Nathalie (Depardieu, Ardent, Béart) and turns out to have been described quite accurately as a misfire.

We know it can’t be tawdry sexploitation (can it?) because the protagonists are so sophisticated: gynecologist Julianne Moore is married to classical music professor Liam Neeson, first seen lecturing on Don Giovanni and his conquests. They live in a chic boxy modernist house, with all exotic hardwood trimmings and giant windows looking like a Mondrian from the outside. Moore thinks Neeson is cheating on her and through a chance encounter (she spares a square!) hires Amanda Seyfried’s eponymous high-class hooker to see what he does if approached by an attractive young woman. Plainly not a good idea.

It kicks off with a classy net-diffused montage of said hooker languorously donning her lingerie whilst musing in voiceover on the power of words and her ability (professional duty, indeed) to use them to become whatever her client desires. She speaks likewise of using her body in similar ways to create an illusion of intimacy and one hopes for an interesting exploration of the mind/body dichotomy, but it is sadly unforthcoming; words do indeed prove important, but even for one such as I, normally slow to spot a twist, the lying does not convince for long.

Likewise, a loving lit shot of her unbelievably obvious track marks proves a red herring beyond acting as a lazy and obvious indicator that she might turn out to be trouble. In fact, it’s symptomatic of the raw deal Seyfried gets, her character a complete cipher for the cuckoo in the nest. Poor Seyfried also suffers the ignominy of being lit several times in such a way that the shadow of her upper lip forms a John Waters moustache (she also has great hair, but there’s nothing to be done about her freaky bug eyes, unfortunately).

Julianne Moore, on the other hand, is one of very few performers so accomplished she can even act with her upper lip, and is great as usual, even if her central part is somewhat underwritten; Neeson is staggeringly uninteresting as usual, but mercifully is mostly sidelined.

One cannot help but think of things like Fatal Attraction, Theorema and even The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, but Chloe‘s not even as good as the least of those. Bonding over some ghastly indie rock band and how she “hates the internet,” Chloe even seduces the son Michael, for whom the climax should be a royal head fuck. Could her final shot reveal her to be an angel sent to teach this family something about itself?

The closing scene is such a cliched happy ending of a smiling family and house full of cheerful party guests that one wonders if the whole thing hasn’t been some sort of satire (why else do they have Rush Limbaugh only spines away from a book on Gucci on their immaculately ordered shelves?); the final shot suggests that Egoyan may even hate his characters for their callous self-absorption and social veneer. But all this I think is rather too charitable – deep feeling and serious adult emotions are the aim here but it comes across as little more than an excuse to bathe a classy hotel room in warm golden light and have Seyfried and Moore make out naked on the bed.

Rating: 5.11/10