In the Cuthas already sent a titillating frisson through the film world; Campion was forced to shave away at edgier scenes in order to avoid a damning NC-17 rating. (She brushes off the controversy as nonsense, sniffing, "How do you know if your film's going to pass the rating? You don't know until you try.") Perhaps the film's shock value derives from Meg Ryan's portrayal of an aggressively sexual creature, or the movie's dogged focus on female pleasure and pain. The role of Frannie, originally written for Campion's Portrait of a Ladystar Nicole Kidman (who reportedly backed out during her divorce), hardly seems suitable for middlebrow Meg, but her squeaky-clean image actually gives the film a startling extra jolt.
Campion had never directed a genre picture beforeunless you file The Pianounder "gothic"and her style mixes uneasily with the thriller framework. But she maintains that she found the restrictions of genre comforting and emboldening: "I felt like I wasn't responsible for bringing up the shadow, that it was already part of that existing format. There are certain rules or a basic shape that you can follow when you're inside a noir." She says she looked to classics like Sunset Boulevardand Chinatownfor guidance. "They're not cautionary tales exactly, because they're not moralistic, but explorations of fear and shadowy parts of life. There's no prizes for being happy and gay in a noir moviethat's failure," Campion says with a shake of the head, pigtails bobbing. "You always have a sense of: Be careful, the world is big and dark and it's going to confound you."