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Faith: In The Garden of Shadows

Studio: Ninn Worx » Review by Disco Dirge » Review Date: 1/17/05

XCritic's Advice: Recommended

GENRE: Straight Feature
DIRECTORS: Michael Ninn
STARS: Anais, Nikki Blond, Laura Capri, Jana Cova, Erica Vachs, Billy Glide, Luthar, Mario Rossi, Mickey Blue, Alex Rox
LENGTH: 122 mins without bonus material

If Michael Ninn, the famed porn director is known for one thing, it is stretching the boundaries of adult filmmaking. Not in narrative ideals, since the vast majority of his productions have the barest of plots. And not in the performance category either. He always picks capable, beautiful women and relatively ripped guys to act out his fuck fantasies. No, where Ninn is working his weird, wondrous magic is in the realm of imagery. Call it Art-Core or Pretty Porn, but directors like Ninn and their ilk want to merge, not mar, the juxtaposition of visual and sensual pleasures to create a kind of canvas of carnality. Such an aesthetically arch approach can turn off some fans. They want their sex sizzling all right, but could do without the numerous camera, lighting and editing effects if you please.

Faith is a sequel to Ninn's In the Garden of Shadows (it is actually subtitled In the Garden of Shadows - Book 2), a well-received venture about temptations of the flesh and the sex lives of corrupted seraphim. This redux again stars the amiable Anais as the fallen femme and moves the original's narrative out of the gloom of the Gothic and into the gleam of a poolside setting. Ninn than sketches out several scenes meant to suggest the inner desires and wicked realities of an angel cast down among the mortals. And with all the haunted voices, bizzaro world visuals and murky mood music, you'd think you were in for another Ninn erotic extravaganza. But something goes array here, something that's unusual for the always approachable artist. For the first time, Ninn's talent actually works AGAINST him in a hardcore title. And the results are rather disheartening.

The DVD:
The basic story for Faith: In the Garden of Shadows - Book 2 goes a little something like this: Anais's character has been cast out of Heaven, or somewhere supposedly ethereal, as payment for taking her role as an angel granting people's carnal wishes way too personally. Condemned to live out her every sexual whim on the maddening corporeal plane of Earth, we are treated to both her actual encounters and her sometimes more disturbing fantasies. Director Ninn then launches into a series of scenes in this case, five which illustrate her more wanton moments and desires. Highlighting his histrionics with all manner of odd images, strange surreal sights and quick cutting chaos, Ninn wants to lull the viewer into a void of absent sensation, using the overkill approach to make the sex seem more alive and real. Usually, this ideal works splendidly.

But Faith seems like a stumble here, a time where we witness an auteur going overboard for no apparent reason. This is a two-hour movie that would be whittled down to about 75 minutes if all the cabaret and creative cacophony were completely removed. There are several moments in the course of the production when you just wish Ninn would stop with the false starts and get to the fucking already. His girls glam around like supermodels on speed, bending and posing, primping and preening like they're being judged by some unseen panel of experts. The sex usually contains a couple of false starts, where we see visions of fuck and/or suck, but then before we know it, we are back to the bare ass beauty ballet. Some strange dude in a hat wanders around without explanation or purpose, more or less to look menacing or monolithic in the background. And the XXX content seems completely overwhelmed by the distracting directorial flair.

It's the presence of Anais that keeps Faith from being a total exercise in irritation. Incredibly good looking, kind of reminiscent of a less hardened (and tattooed) Jeanine, our star performs for us in three fairly decent scenes, trying to keep the hardcore's head above the wandering waters of Ninn's cinematic eye. She mostly succeeds, and without her powerful persona, Faith would be a total flop. The rest of the sex is consistently stifled by Ninn's busy bravado. Let's look at the individual scenes to see just how the production values void the visceral power of the porn:

Scene 1: Anais, Billy Glide
This scene is basically divided up into three parts. The first features Anais playing with herself in a very long masturbation sequence. There is a great deal of deep fingering and lip smacking V to M, and when she's done, you almost think the sequence has ended. But then Billy shows up and we move directly into the fuck facet of the scene. Mr. Glide loves to snack on snatch, and he spends a good deal of time tonguing Anais's pussy and tossing her salad. He penetrates her anally as well, and uses his fingers before the blowjob begins. Anais gives great head, and Billy seems to agree. Once the couple commences copulating, we get vaginal doggy (with gratuitous, half-hearted butt slapping) and some erotic straight mish. The final part of this sequence is the pop. When Billy brings the ball brine, he gives Anais a nice face and mouthful, which Ninn then emphasizes by replaying the moment in slow motion and from different angles, over and over again.

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Billy and Anais pair up perfectly, bodies blending well into a hot hardcore sequence that promises great things to come. But there are also portents of problems here, issues that Ninn will exaggerate over the course of this compilation. The masturbation goes on for far too long, frankly, feeling like an individual scene that was then married to another sex sequence. And there is a tendency to interrupt the flow of a scene to show us more of Ninn's mind-bending montage footage. These breaks in the bonking do not work to the film's advantage, and show a carelessness that's unusual for one of his features. Still, Anais and Billy save the day, giving us the passion and the porking we've come to expect from a XXX title. Score: 6 out of 10.

Scene 2: Nikki Blond, Laura Capri, Luthar
This is kind of a crazy scene, a myriad of acts roughly and randomly tossed together that in conjunction with each other make almost no sense. It starts with some masturbation, as Nikki flicks her Bic with purple passion. Soon, Luthar's log enters the image and it's dick sucking time. The blowjob is fairly decent, but then we suddenly shift to a girl/girl sequence with complimentary dildo action and salad tossing. Then Nikki leaps onto Luthar's knob and does some reverse cowgirling while Laura goes DiVinyls in the surroundings. After the implied V to M and pussy gaping, it's time to tap that ass. Luthar drills dumper in the backward barnyard motif, and there is lots of implied and actual A to M. Lu finally lets loose his love load, giving Ms. Blond a nice little facial. Typical to Michael Ninn, we relive the money moment twice more, in slow motion and from different angles.

Here is a clear example of how Ninn's style can somehow become aggravating in the context of hardcore sex. We have two hot girls and one decent enough guy here, and yet there is no sense of passion or partnership in the plooking. Ninn merely films what he wants, edits it together with a heavy artistic hand, and then expects people to palpitate over it. Since it's hard to deny the sizzle sparked by the performers, the scene still comes across as decent. But Ninn now appears to be working against, not with, his aesthetics. Score: 5 out of 10.

Scene 3: Anais, Jana Cova
When it comes to a girl/girl scene in porn, there are a few certain Sapphic situations you are guaranteed to see. Yes, there will be cunt tonguing and teasing, with additional finger fluffing for good measure. The gals will definitely fondle and French each other in wanton abandon. If a toy gets involved, there will be lots of diddling and drilling (and let's not forget the tasting and sucking of said faux phallus). And God help us if the strap-on makes an appearance, since suddenly, the notion of same-sex shenanigans is shattered by the inclusion of standard hetero pork positions. Well, everything except the pseudo stunt cock is present here, so on one hand, what we have is the usual unexciting, 'going through the gratuitous motions' missives by a couple of smoking gals.

And it is there very attractiveness, along with Ninn being finally in careful control of the visuals that sell this scene. When Anais and Jana get wet with water and start in on the touchy feely fun, it's the most luxuriant lesbian fantasy come to life. Ninn relies on the strobe effect to accent every bead of water, every ray of sun, and the results give this sequence a special kind of stylized erotica. In the end, we get a battle between the beauty of the performers and the usual same sex staleness. Yet this is one of the clear examples where Ninn's work actually helps a scene overcome its dull commonality. Score: 7out of 10.

Scene 4: Erica Vachs, Mario Rossi, Mickey Blue
It's time for two guys and one gal, which means we move into free-for-all mode for this fairly decent scene. After the cabaret and masturbation, we get a couple of cocks swinging in the wind, and Erica is more than up for the dueling dick challenge. She gives switch-off head, sucks on schlong while one dude dines on her honey hole, and enjoys some reverse range riding as another gent jiggles up her jugs. After a few minutes of anal spooning (captured in far too extreme close-up) it is on to DP territory, as Ms. Vachs's vagina takes a tool - cowgirl style - while the secondary shaft penetrates the pooper. When they're done, it's full facial time. Erica samples a double helping of sausage sauce, and even helps clean up the rigid links once they've spent their seed. This is a basic balling scene, nothing really spectacular or out of the ordinary. Ninn applies the patented slow motion maneuver during the final sperm shower, but overall, his crazed camera work is kind of calm here. The result is a decent sequence, but nothing very extraordinary in the pecking order of porn. Score: 5 out of 10.

Scene 5: Anais, Alex Rox
In what should be the showstopping topper of the entire set, Anais makes another appearance, this time with that foreign fop Alex Rox. But instead of heat, we get bored waiting for the action to actually start. There is a great deal of scenery showboating by Ninn, and far too much muddled build up before the fuck. And then, after all the kissing and mutual oral (by both male and female performers) and the two derivative positions (doggy and cowgirl) Alex is done and delivering his dong draft. What a complete and utter letdown. Anais tries her hardest, but just can't get this scene to swelter.

Ninn makes a couple of clumsy mistakes here. He keeps his camera pulled back much too far, never giving us a very good glimpse of the penetration or the passion between the actors. There is one sequence in particular, where Mr. Rox is putting the pooch to Anais's pussy that must have been filmed from 100 yards away. This medium to long shot offers no viewable insertion, the merest suggestion of sensuality, and a desire to maximize the artistic while foiling the fire. Rox has very little animal magnetism, and Anais seems to overwhelm him with both her beauty and balling ability. Someone as statuesque as she is needs a man who can match her mantle. Alex comes across like a kid surreptitiously coping some cunt candy from the XXX store. This makes for a very mediocre scene and a tepid end to this title. Score: 4 out of 10.

In some ways, Michael Ninn's catalog of artcore titles becomes the training wheels of porn after a while. The first time you ride on one of his resplendent, atmospheric sex showcases, you find his formula fresh, inventive and easy to digest. But after the 13th or 14th trip, you begin to grow tired of the rapid fire editing, messy mise-en-scene and music video variables in his scenes. Faith is an example of a film where almost all his most self-indulgent aspects come colliding together to screw up the suck and fuck. With a star as sensational as Anais (she is the saving grace of this muddled movie, make no mistake) there shouldn't be the need for all the froufrou and falderal. But Ninn just doesn't know when to say "enough". Indeed, such a word seems foreign to his visual vocabulary. Usually, his images match some aspect of the film, either literally or, mostly, metaphorically. In Faith, the optics seem randomly tossed at the screen, having no real relationship to the inferred storyline or the hardcore sexuality. This is glitter and pizzazz for the sake of a spectacle, nothing more or less. While Faith is still fabulous to look at, the eyes are the wrong organ requiring stimulation from an adult title. Without substantial arousal factors, a fuck film fails. Faith comes dangerously close to fulfilling this limp dick dynamic.

The Video:
In a word: stunning. All issues with how it affects the fucking aside, Ninn does have a real eye for evocative visuals, and his sets and compositions do create atmosphere and tone in his titles. While this is a full frame 1.33:1 feature, the lack of letterboxing does not distract from Ninn's approach. Again, there is the tendency to let the camera explore, to show extreme or convoluted angles to emphasize the action, and this time, these excessive elements spoil the skin sin. Faith really couldn't look better. But the overall presentation could have been more focused and refined.

The Audio:
The aural issues in Faith, as usual, are a treat. The music is moody and absolutely appropriate for the movie. The use of silence (except for the sounds of sex) in the scenes accentuates the passion. It helps take us out of the fantasy and places us squarely in the realm of the flesh (and anything that can do that here is greatly appreciated). The Dolby Digital Stereo serves all this up with a balanced and earthy presentation. There is never a lo-tech feel or lack of warmth to the soundscape. Combined with the exceptional video, Faith is typical Ninn, i.e., some of the best looking and sounding porn around.

The Extras:
There is an entire extra disc devoted to bonuses in the DVD presentation of Faith, but once this material is viewed, one will wonder if the second platter was really needed. We are treated to a 25-minute Behind the Scenes featurette, a typical slide show gallery of the talent, a three way lesbian scene and an elongated, bloated trailer for the original In the Garden of Shadows. The girl/girl/girl sequence, entitled "Angels" is a very long same sex workout that features far too soft shenanigans and none of heat we expect from a sizzling Sapphic three-way. To go into any more detail would be a waste of time. The extended preview of Garden is groan worthy, since we get snippets of sex, but nothing extended or specific (talk about bait and switch). About the only added feature worth paying attention to is the Behind the Scenes stuff, and only because we get a chance to watch the dramatic set being dressed and hear Czech chick Jana Cova Q&A for the camera. The rest of the making-of is meandering, focusing on different facets without much rhyme or reason. The result plays like a companion, and not an explanation, for how Faith was made.

Final Thoughts:
Maybe the Dirge is being too hard on good old Mr. Ninn. After all, it was this artistic auteur's catalog that first opened this critic's jaded eyes to the notion of a more mainstream porn aesthetic. Previous Ninn Worx like Fragile, Becoming Georgia Adair Self Portrait and The Edge were smart, savvy XXX extravaganzas dripping with dramatics and sensational sex. Where Faith went wrong seems to be fairly obvious, but it is also the very elements that make the rest of Ninn's canon so appealing. Whatever the reason, Faith fails to offer up much in the way of heat or heavy hardcore content. While it earns a 6 out of 10 on the Disco Dirge Peter Meter, warranting a recommendation, you may be better served by renting this experience in visual excess. Couples almost always view Ninn's novelties as must-see marital aides, and Faith is no different. So a Cohabitation Certification is easily awarded. In the world of adult entertainment, no name is more honored and respected than Michael Ninn. Here's hoping that Faith is just an anomaly in a future career packed with fantastic porn production. One would hate to think this is a sign of things to come. Ninn has always been in control of his muse before. Let's pray he recaptures it quick, before he drops out of the hardcore hierarchy all together.

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