‘A Homosexual Film by Samuel Van Grinsven’. This in-your-face assertion at the very beginning might throw some of you off-track but if you can survive it, then you are in for one hell of a cinematic ride. The cheeky introduction, of course, alludes to filmmaker Gregg Araki, a shining star of the New Queer Cinema movement, who introduced a couple of his earlier films in a similar way.
Shot on a budget of under $1 million, a lot rides on the charisma of the Australian lead Conor Leach and he hits a home run with panache. His portrayal of a true ‘blue’ sexual larrikin belies his age, as he successfully passes off as an 18-year-old despite being 16. (“18. Twink. Curious” reads his bio on ‘Anon’, a gay hook-up app.) There’s a condescending air about him. He observes people and sizes them up before allowing them to enter into his personal space. His reluctant, self-assured smile and backhanded compliments serve both as his charm and his peeve. Through his daily dalliances we vicariously experience a smartphone-era coming-of-age tale told in a manner of Gregg-Araki-meets-David-Lynch – a testament to first time director Samuel Van Grinsven’s ability to combine the ordinary and the deceptively out-of-the-ordinary. The ‘twinkish’ lead’s sexual adventures are classified as ‘apartments’ to emphasise the claustrophobic and the hallucinatory nature of his online addiction.
The young protagonist always wears a sequin-embellished top beneath his clothes and proudly displays it to his sexual partners during his hook-ups. It fits like a second skin on his ‘twinkish’ figure. In essence, it is an extension of his personality – a ‘social’ identity, as his display name on ‘anon’ is Sequin too. Blue Room is a profile created on ‘anon’, which caters to patrons of group sex, and Sequin gets sucked into its world – one of fleeting lust and looming danger. The blue room acts a metaphor for the deep recesses of online hook-up culture. And the sequined top, a placard of rebellion. Sequin is a fabric that reflects when light falls on its surface and emits a hallucinogenic sensation. Likewise there is a mystery around Sequin, as we never get to know his real name. Even his father (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) prefers to address him as ‘mate’. And he always blocks the profiles of his online hook-ups, after his one-night stands.
The camera focuses a lot on Sequin’s face, trying to give us a glimpse into what’s actually going on inside his curious and adventurous teenage-boy brain. In most parts, he is in charge of the narrative and he never plays the boy-in-distress card. Kudos to the director for displaying a no-holds-barred glorification of ‘homonormative’ assertion in the narrative. Sequin gets into trouble not because of his sexuality, but in spite of it.
Any coming-of-age story is incomplete without the influence of the people around a young mind who shape his outlook on life. Sequin has his fair share too. For instance, his English literature teacher doesn’t deride his choice of Twilight (a book/movie unanimously vilified on the internet as too ‘feminine’) as a great love story while discussing recurring tropes of classic love stories in fiction or otherwise. His chance interaction with a middle-aged cross-dresser (Anthony Brandon Wong) makes him realise the privileged position of his existence in the society, as his father is accepting and supportive of his sexuality. There are unsavoury experiences too, like dealing with an obsessive older married man (Ed Wightman), but these are all considered part and parcel of growing up gay and promiscuous in an urban setting. If at all the film acts as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of vulnerable young minds falling prey to unwanted attention online, it is never conspicuous. Rather, it pushes the boundaries of queer storytelling by treating its young lead as a layered person of flesh and blood, and making him face the consequences of his own actions.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.