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When Bob Zak, the founder of Gwen Media, died of a heart attack in the summer of 2005, many fetish fanatics thought his vision died with him. Co-founded in 1999 with writer John Fitzgerald, GM had built a devoted, if not fanatical, following based on high production values, interesting storylines, and amazing fetish fashions, which Zak employed in each film. A product of good timing, GM provided an outlet for adventuresome porn lovers seeking an alternative to both the perceived blandness of mainstream porn films and the lack of content that existed in the fetish niche at the time.
A key player in the success of GM was Isabella Sinclaire. A former model turned fetish icon, Sinclaire’s natural flair for dominance and her command on film seemed to be a perfect match for GM. Indeed, her Ivy Manor series provided just the financial boon to help the nascent company thrive. Now, some years later, after a lawsuit over ownership rights, a failed settlement, Zak’s untimely death, and a protracted court battle, Sinclaire finds herself at the helm of GM’s fetish franchise. Since its revival in February of this year, the newest incarnation of Gwen Media has released five films, including the laconic Isabella’s Toy.
The film stars Isabella herself and award-winning bondage diva Ashley Renee, resulting in a dream matchup between two fetish titans. Sinclaire has mastered the art of the dominatrix role and she puts it on full display here. The nearly unchanging expression she displays throughout seems to exhume the simple beauty of the Mona Lisa smile. It is at once Arcadian, yet defiant. Certain well-timed moments find the dashing diva batting a sinister eye toward the camera as if to remind everyone that she has the viewer under her control as well her subject. Renee, in contrast, brings, as always, an astute submissiveness to the table that contrasts brilliantly with Sinclaire.
But, the key figure here is a mysterious, dark figure clad entirely in bondage gear simply identified as ‘Toy’. While the symbolic nature of Toy is certainly debatable, it is clear that this nightmarish character adds an overwhelming air of void and desolation to the surreal nature of the film. Toy’s presence is ubiquitous and it represents an added element of behavioral control. The unspoken promise of a reward that is never quite within reach is certainly the mechanism by which Sinclaire deftly exerts her authority over Renee, much like a child with a dolly that she won’t share.
The height of the film comes as Renee is sprawled out on a metal gurney. Sinclaire taunts the strapped down starlet and inflicts pain in the form of a rudimentary battery and some well-placed electrodes, while she affixes old, wooden clothes pins to her bare skin. Unbeknownst to Renee, the ever-present, sensory-deprived Toy lies unseen directly beneath her. It is just one of the scenes that titillates, yet plays psychological mind games with the viewer as proof of Sinclaire’s mastery of the genre.
Clocking in at thirty-eight minutes, the film, set on a macabre backdrop of Enigma meets Nine Inch Nails electronica, feels much like the lucidity of an early morning, snooze bar-induced vision. The aqueous, slow motion capture style, the timeline anomalies, whether planned or unplanned, the intermittent, echoing voiceovers, and the absence of audio, aside from the foreboding soundtrack reverberating in the background, serve to enhance that feeling.
“Ours is a world of endless possibilities,” the distant voice beckons at the beginning of the film. If that is the case, we should all enjoy thoroughly exploring each and every one of those possibilities as they are released for public consumption. Isabella Sinclaire has made it her mission to deliver on the promises of quality that fans have come to expect from Gwen Media. With Isabella’s Toy, she has definitely taken a step in the right direction.