Are there any likable characters in the novels of Bret Easton Ellis? They’re all so caught up in a nihilistic wallow that even a smile must be caused by something evil lurking beneath their flesh. In The Rules of Attraction, writer-director Roger Avary takes a crack at Ellis’ bleak view of college.

It’s an outstanding film, clearly stamped with some bravura filmmaking techniques, an impeccable soundtrack and a stereotype-shattering performance from James Van Der Beek as Sean Bateman (yes, that’s the brother of Patrick Bateman from Ellis’ American Psycho.) 

That said, it’s a rough, brutal ride that’s clearly not for everyone. Rampant sex, drug use, masturbation, suicide attempts — all this from wholesome Dawson himself. It’s a movie that had slight cuts to avoid an NC-17 and plays as you would expect such a movie might — with seedy, dramatic intensity.

Avary uses camera tricks but wisely weaves them into the film’s narrative. And the film contains one of the year’s most impressive, but hard to watch, scenes: a suicide set to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” He’s clearly cribbing from Stanley Kubrick in some regards, but that’s as much a compliment as a criticism.

He also pulls off the rare feat of a good film in which the director clearly hates all his characters, because he convinces the audience to hate them, too. 

At first, we expect Van Der Beek’s character to come around in the end. But his rampant talk of self-improvement is bogus, and we know it. Van Der Beek cleverly angles around Sean’s lecherous actions to give us a fascinating mental picture of apathy.

There are laughs in the film — quite a few, actually. But they’re all acidic, none of them sweet — especially the drug humor. If the thought of Fred Savage playing a strung-out student who stores a burning cigarette in his bellybutton while shooting up intrigues you, you will love The Rules of Attraction.