By Owen Gleiberman
Updated July 21, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Movies that want to get down and dirty about obsessive sexual relationships generally try too hard to be exhibitionistic and ”hot.” In the Australian film Praise, Gordon (Peter Fenton), a lanky, careless drifter (he’s the sort of guy who has asthma and smokes), hooks up with Cynthia (Sacha Horler), who’s chunky and morose, with splotchy eczema scabs covering her body. The only place she comes fully alive is in the bedroom (well, on the living-room floor, too), and it’s because her hunger is so desperate, such a compensation for how awful she feels living in her own skin, that we’re drawn into its insatiable, neurotic path.

Praise is heavier on mood than incident, but its vision of a doomed erotic power war has a lurching authenticity. Since Cynthia uses sex as a drug, she never feels fulfilled, just ready for the next fix. Horler’s performance brings this acrid punk fatale to vicious, wounded life, and Fenton might be playing every man who fell into a burning bed he couldn’t escape. B+