Is ‘queer horror’ a thing now?
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NOVEMBER 4 ― Being the borderline obsessive film lover that I am, of course I’ve always made it a point to catch not just as many films as I can, but also spread my net far and wide to immerse myself in as many types of films that I can.
That is also why chances are I’d be as likely to be found writing about an awesome new arthouse film from Israel, Chad, Greece or Argentina as I do a B, C or Z grade horror flick with no name actors and helmed by a no name director, or even profess my undying love for a much maligned big budget Hollywood flop like John Carter and Warcraft.
Those who personally know me will also notice that, as straight a guy as I am, I’d also have no problems admitting my fondness for gay (or lesbian) films like Moonlight, Late Bloomers, Weekend or the wonderfully feel-good Pride, or as the catch-all phrase normally puts it ― “queer cinema.”
Queer cinema of course has a rich and long history, which I won’t be getting into right now, but there’s one relatively new and quiet corner of queer cinema that I feel like highlighting this week, thanks to my encounter with two new films that more or less fall into this relatively new subgenre ― “queer horror.”
Despite queer cinema’s long and rich history, there has been very few pure horror or genre concoctions that have managed to come out of the scene, with 2004’s Hellbent more or less generally acknowledged as the first queer horror film (with gay lead characters, and even drag queens in the mix!) to make a mark on the festival scene and into film fans’ consciousness.
Since then things have been pretty quiet, with only a few films like Otto; Or, Up With Dead People and All Cheerleaders Die flying the flag every few years, at least until 2017 which suddenly saw three new queer horror flicks making an unexpected appearance, with the weakest one, Pitchfork, throwing the first punch earlier in the year.
So when two pretty strong queer horror films turned up out of the blue almost simultaneously, one naturally has to sit up and take notice, and wonder whether this might just be a start to a new wave of queer horror.
Clearly the better film of the two, this directing debut from TV veteran Joe Ahearne (he did British shows like Doctor Who and Apparitions) is probably as much of a landmark in the evolution of queer cinema as Hellbent was back in 2004.
Telling the story of a gay couple returning to a bed & breakfast that refused to give them a double bed after triumphantly winning their case in court, Ahearne piles on layer after layer of paranoia and suspense when things get more and more tense not only as a result of them baiting the B&B’s Christian owner, but also when another guest menacingly turns up and revelation after revelation starts to unfold, resulting in a story that’s full of all sorts of twists and turns.
In short, this is a really well done Hitchcockian thriller that not only manages to handle all the tense bits with great aplomb, but Ahearne even manages to stage a voyeuristic suspense set-piece that’s part Vertigo, part Strangers On A Train and part Brian De Palma, involving a dark cruising spot and some pretty striking use of night vision cameras.
A truly exciting discovery, this one will be remembered for years to come as a bold breakthrough in queer genre cinema.
A Closer Walk With Thee
Unlike the very professional-looking B&B, this one clearly lacks any sort of real budget, with the film clearly looking like it’s shot using consumer grade digital cameras and the whole production feeling more like a short film extended to feature length in terms of location, set design and production values.
But what it lacks in material comfort, it bravely tries to make up for with plenty of bold ideas and fearless merging of elements that many won’t think are compatible in the first place.
To describe the film in just a few words ― it’s a gay Evangelical exorcism movie, or in the film-makers’ own words, “a homoerotic Evangelical exorcism film.”
And they’re not empty promises either! The film concerns a group of young Evangelists trying to spread the word of God in what seems to be a violent ghetto populated by gangsters.
Led by Eli, a hunky dude who is the son of their church’s pastor, the gay or homoerotic element comes in courtesy of Jordan, a member of their group who begins to lust after Eli and starts having erotic visions, leading the group to believe that Jordan’s lust is a result of him being possessed by a demon, or some sort of evil.
This leads the film down a very strange and fascinating path, as the viewer is kept guessing whether Jordan’s resulting extreme actions are really because of possession, or because he’s pretending in order to get physically close to Eli.
Either way it’s really quite something to watch, as writer-directors John C. Clark and Brie Williams throw grenades at all sorts of sacred things, and we can only gasp and watch in horror (or shock) at the things that are unfolding onscreen.
It’s nowhere near perfect, with acting and camerawork that can really feel like it’s a student film sometimes, but its commitment to its incendiary ideas will keep you glued to the screen anyway. Tread with caution, but you may just be (un)pleasantly surprised.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.