Cruel Intentions has been slammed by critics, who have unfairly and unfavourably compared it with 1989's Dangerous Liaisons (both films stem from Choderlos de Laclos's novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Whereas Dangerous Liaisons is fairly faithful to the original, Cruel Intentions manipulates the plot - throwing a twist in the tail - and relocates the milieu from 18th century France to the present-day Upper East Side of New York, where underneath the veneer of respectability, wealthy teenagers plot each other's downfalls.
Stepsiblings Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont are two such teenagers. They amuse themselves by arranging reputation-destroying paybacks for those who have wronged them, and make wagers on the outcome. The focus of the movie is Sebastian's attempt to make a conquest of the Headmaster's virginal daughter, Annette (who, in a heavy-handed attempt at symbolism, wears white throughout almost the entire film).
However, the movie certainly has some memorable high points, beginning at the very outset where the camera swoops fast and low over what appears to be a grassy park studded with rocks; only after the camera angles away does the viewer realise - with some discomfort - that the park is in fact a graveyard. The opening scenes also introduce the appealing and well-judged soundtrack, which includes artists as diverse as Placebo and Fatboy Slim. The Verve's song, Bittersweet Symphony, is an absolutely perfect 'just desserts' track at the film's conclusion.
These kids are incredibly nasty and vindictive, but owing to the verbosity of the script and the almost total lack of adult chaperones appearing on screen, it is difficult at times to remember that they are only teenagers. In the end though, perhaps we just like to see someone be very, very wicked and almost get away with it.