Bound (2015) (not to be confused with Bound (1996), the lesbian-noir thriller directed by the Wachowskis) has an interesting pedigree. It was made by The Asylum, best known as the producers of numerous “mockbusters”, low budget, direct-to-video knock-offs of popular Hollywood films. Usually, these are science fiction, disaster and horror films (e.g. Transmorphers, based on Transformers), but a few belong to other genres. Bound is The Asylum’s take on Fifty Shades of Grey (which, in turn, is a take on the Twilight series of books and films).
Let’s get one thing clear. Bound is not a great film. The production values are low, the acting isn’t great, entire scenes seem to be missing from the story, and there are more than a few plot holes.
It is a better cinematic treatment of a woman’s introduction to BDSM than Fifty Shades of Grey.
Whereas the protagonist of Fifty Shades is introduced as an asexual, virgin college student, Bound’s lead, Michelle Mulan (Charisma Carptenter) is a mature woman who has a career, a lavish house, an almost-adult daughter (and presumably an ex-husband somewhere), and a vibrator for when her lover leaves her unsatisfied. Michelle’s difficulty in juggling these facets of her life feels realistic.
(There are other details that are less realistic, such as Michelle’s boss also being her father, or the gigantic mansion she owns.)
Michelle’s frustrations are relieved by Ryan (Bryce Draper), a younger man. He’s cut from the same cloth as Christian Grey: handsome, mysterious, moody, associated with wealth and luxury. They even made his surname “Black.” He just inserts herself in her life, issuing commands to her. However, there’s a push-pull between Ryan and Michelle over her boundaries that makes things interesting.
Bound borrows a technique from Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries to soften the already soft-core sex scenes by adding dissolves, montages, color filters, slow-motion, and voice-overs. This produces a dream-like effect that is at odds with the usual hyperrealism of hardcore sex, on the assumption that it is more palatable to the desired middle-class heterosexual female audience (and broadcast regulators).
However, Ryan goes through rants and mood swings that would have most women reaching for the pepper spray. After they have a dom-sub moment in her father/boss’ office, Ryan goes full-on megalomaniac.
Ryan: “He’s not your daddy anymore. I’m your father. I’m your master, your husband and your god. I’m your daddy. Be afraid of me. Be afraid of what I’ll do if you don’t obey me.”
Michelle’s reaction is weird. She doesn’t flee in terror, but neither does she seem turned on by this. She looks like she’s trying to figure out if he’s for real, or if this is a game she wants to play along with. As she keeps seeing him after this, it must be the latter.
Apparently on the same night, they go to a play party, though this wasn’t a big set piece. The budgetary limitation shows how few extras they could show.
After this, they go to the alley outside and make out (copying the sex-in-the-alley scene from Nine and an Half Weeks.)
Ryan: “What turned you on in there?”
Michelle: “The girl with the whip. And the way she was treating… her sub?”
Ryan: “Her sub.”
Michelle: “It made my whole body clench.”
They continue making out, with a guy in a leather mask watching down the alley.
Michelle: “He can see, he can see.”
Ryan: “Let him watch.”
Michelle: “Red, red!”
If there was a scene in which Michelle was introduced to safewords, it was cut or never shot. Ryan does respect her safeword, and her boundary not to go to her place because her daughter is there.
This leads to another set piece in Ryan’s private dungeon, and more tension about Michelle’s other obligations and her interest in being a dominant.
We’re told that Ryan is a car thief and a drug dealer, though just as hearsay. He’s definitely a predatory dominant with no respect for Michelle’s boundaries. When invited to a charity benefit run by Michelle’s father, Ryan fucks her in the bathroom, insults the other guests, and uses a remote controlled vibrator on her when she’s trying to talk business. Her affair with him keeps interfering with her work, which leads to being called on the carpet before her dad/boss. But she goes back to Ryan for stress relief and pleasure.
Michelle: “Have you ever been a submissive?”
Michelle: “Can I spank you?”
Michelle: “No, you don’t want to be spanked, or no, you don’t want to be spanked by me?”
Ryan doesn’t answer.
Michelle: “Is that what happened in the restaurant that day with Alana?”
Ryan: “She’s a psychopath. Whatever she told you is lies.”
Michelle: “Well, I’ve never met her. She didn’t tell me anything. I did see her in a video, though.”
Ryan: “You’ve been researching on your own. Is that where this is coming from?”
Ryan: “This is my world. You’re not ready for it. Far from it. You should say, ‘Thank you, Master’ and that’s all.”
Michelle: “Thank you, Master.” [bit of insolence there]
They kiss. She teases him a bit in the kiss.
Michelle: “I still want to try it, though.”
Ryan: “Leave. Get out now. Get the fuck out now!”
After her introduction to kink by Ryan, Michelle takes initiative and investigates BDSM on her own, thinking about being a dominant. This is another major difference from FSOG, which views female dominance with a kind of horror.
She goes to an adult store and later the BDSM club, by herself. There she meets Alana, a dominant who warns her about Ryan.
Alana: “Can I give you some advice, Michelle? Be careful of Ryan. He’s dangerous. He hurts people, not just their bodies, but their lives. He gets off on it.”
Michelle: “Why should I believe you?”
Alana: “Don’t. Just thought someone should warn you to watch out.”
Michelle: “Why do you care?”
Alana: “Because people like Ryan give people like us a bad name. These are loving, creative, smart people here, and Ryan is a predator.”
Michelle: “So what does that make me? The victim?”
Alana: “You’re feisty. Looks to me like you’ve been on the wrong side of the whip.”
Bound may not pass the Bechdel test, but it does show women in solidarity against a predatory man.
Later that night, Michelle returns home and finds her almost-adult daughter tied up (not nude) in bed with Ryan. Michelle tries to untie Dara, while Ryan rants “I am your master! Don’t fucking forget it.” and “You’re weak! Both of you! You’re always going to be weak!”
This is where the plot runs into problems, as Michelle threatens to call the police and Ryan says he’s untouchable because he didn’t technically have sex with her. (Let’s see that hold up in court.) Michelle throws him out and re-bonds with her crying daughter, but doesn’t call the police.
After more frustrations at work and harassing texts from Ryan, Michelle goes to his place and confronts him. Ryan calls her a “weak, pathetic divorcee” and “I turned you from a mousy little weakling into a sex goddess who worshiped the ground I walked on.” This leads to a fight in which Michelle knocks Ryan out.
She drags him to the dungeon, strips him naked, puts him in a bondage harness and pulls him up by his wrists. (No frontal male nudity.) Michelle says she can call the police on him (which she could have done already), and “What I want is to send a very clear message that I can and will kill you.”
This consists of her doing a fairly mild impact play on him, though probably the real impact is psychological, of forcing a control freak like Ryan into a situation he can’t control
Michelle: “Ryan, what did you learn?”
Ryan: “To stay away from you and your daughter.”
Michelle: “Good boy! Good boy.”
She leaves him tied up, after telling him someone is coming and he will have to explain the harassing messages to her daughter on his hard drive. (Wouldn’t the text messages to her be enough?)
Michelle, newly confident, returns to her office and pulls off a deal that saves her dad/boss’ company, which makes her a partner in the company.
Later, the guy with whom she made a deal invites her to dinner.
She grabs him by his necktie like a leash. “Sure you don’t want something kinky?”
Jesse: “Yes, mistress.”
Bound has porn-video-like production values compared to a major studio film like Fifty Shades of Grey, but its sexual and gender politics are far more advanced. It ends with the aspirational fantasy that a woman’s sexual power and professional power are complementary.
Charisma Carpenter (Michelle) is probably best known as Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. She also played the dominatrix-like priestess Triana on the fantasy TV series Legend of the Seeker. Director and writer Jared Cohn has directed many other films for The Asylum. Co-writer Delondra Mesa is another Asylum inmate.