The first feature film from director Samuel Van Grinsven pulls no punches in identifying that it is a homosexual film. The title card claims the film’s orientation and doesn’t wait for the audience to gradually feel around the subject matter as it dives in wearing its queerness with pride. Similarly the film’s erotic sensibilities are up front with the sex, in most cases, being shot with an exquisite attention to the pleasure of the male body and the joy of homosexual intercourse.
There is nothing shy nor coy about the film, it is gay, and it is loud about it.
Queer cinema still sits on the fringes of mainstream film because there is the assumption that it’s not consumable for a straight audience. Sequin in a Blue Room is unabashedly queer, but the central premise is one that opens it up for any audience – it’s a story about love, sex and obsession – but what lays at the heart of it is how these things effect the life of someone still on the cusp of adulthood.
Sixteen-year-old Sequin (Conor Leach) spends his time split between high school and searching out random no strings attached sexual encounters on a Grindr like app called Anon. He’s a seductive twink who finds empowerment through one off sexual dalliances with men who find his youth and beauty irresistible and then afterwards immediately cuts off all contact. The life he is leading is certainly risqué and comes with a set of perils that the young man is not necessarily equipped to cope with.
Sequin’s online life leads him to an encounter with an older married man known as B (an increasingly threatening Ed Wightman). Intoxicated by his time with Sequin, he wants to be able to spend more time with the young man. When Sequin tells him that isn’t on the cards he arranges for Sequin to attend an anonymous sex party in the titular Blue Room. The rules are simple – no names, no speaking. B spots Sequin and tries to reconnect with him at the party but instead Sequin has an unforgettable encounter with Edward, who teasingly suggests that Sequin “find him out there,” outside the anonymous party. Sequin is fascinated by Edward and invests himself in what becomes a dangerous game in tracking him down.
Between the sex parties and hook ups Sequin is trying to balance his life as a Sydney schoolboy whilst living with his well-meaning but somewhat lax father. In class he is glued to his phone scrolling through the Anon database looking for his next hook up, and, after the party, more desperately trying to find the enigmatic Edward. Whilst he searches for Edward he once again hooks up with B in the hopes that he will lead him to the object of his obsession. Instead he finds himself pursued by B who seeks Sequin out at his school and home.
In class he is studying the tropes of romance and obsession. A fellow gay schoolmate Tommy (Simon Croker) tries to signal his interest in Sequin but is rebuffed as Sequin believes himself to be a part of a much more adult world than his seemingly gormless school mate. However as the film progresses the adult world that Sequin is trying to inhabit becomes distinctly more dangerous and the young man is ill prepared for the consequences of trying to navigate such a world without building a solid safety net. He is a young man with romantic ideals toying with a world he is not quite equipped for and as the film progresses the tone shifts from the film being about coming of age, to being about returning to being an age; in effect, being sixteen and enjoying the first blushes of romance instead of trying to inhabit a distinctly more mature world in which he presents himself as an object of desire.
Impressively shot by cinematographer Jay Grant, Sydney is suffused with primary colours that glisten off the young body of Sequin and his mirrored top (the basis of his nom-de-plume). The attention to detail in creating the digital app Anon is masterful and the interactions play out on the side of the cinema screen instead of focusing on a phone display. The attention to detail in the production is meticulous and doesn’t suggest the small budget the film was made on.
Taking on the role of Sequin is newcomer Conor Leach who captures both the arrogance and fragility of youth in a stellar performance. Sequin is reticent and generally verbally uncommunicative, yet Leach manages to infuse the complexity of the character’s emotional state in a performance which uses his whole body as a narrative space. From his smallest facial expressions Leach expresses the full range of emotions that move from ecstasy, to fear; lust to fragility. At all moments Sequin is believable as a lost boy and young adult trying his best to negotiate an increasingly isolating and dangerous realm.
The film has already garnered several well-deserved awards. It is an exciting piece of new queer cinema that also resonates as a teen film about living in the digital age and what that means for young people in contemporary society. When the fantasy world of online life collides with reality, the outcome isn’t necessarily pleasant. Samuel Van Grinsven explores what happens when the two intersect and real-world consequences become frightening and more than the young protagonist can handle.
Sequin in a Blue Room is a stimulating and well executed film that delivers by creating a believable contemporary tale about what it is to be young and finding yourself in the digital age. The film is also a testament to the fact that queer narratives have a universality that is often overlooked. Whether gay, straight, or somewhere else on the spectrum of human sexuality, the film speaks to a wide audience about life in the twenty-first century and the way in which young people often push themselves into more adult spaces than they are ready for in the hopes of finding a place to belong, even if that place is partially a fantasy that can never be fully realised.
Director: Samuel Van Grinsven
Cast: Conor Leach, Simon Croker, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor
Writers: Jory Anast, Samuel Van Grinsven