Before you ask, the answer is no. Grinder has nothing to do with the popular hookup app. While Writer/Director Brandon Ruckdashel’s film may not be buried in your iPhone menu, the metaphor is far from lost. This is a story about the meat grinder many young gay men must try to survive, weathering a gauntlet of homophobia, confusion, and the discovery of one’s self-identity.
The film opens with a few vignettes, giving the audience a glimpse into a few men’s lives and letting us anticipate how these stories may be connected. Luke, played by Tyler Austin, is a teen who recently came out to his father. While Luke’s father seems to be learning to accept his son’s sexual identity, his true homophobic self is unleashed when Luke explains how he’d like to go to New York and pursue modeling.
Meanwhile, in New York lives a talented photographer named Tim (played by Ruckdashel himself). Tim is straight, and engaged to be married, however we soon see him grappling with his sexuality as he photographs young male models…and occasionally slips away at night for a more voyeuristic approach to photography. Tim books his muses from Rich (Jon Fleming), a successful talent agent with an eye for fresh meat.
Luke gets in touch with Rich online, after submitting some head shots for representation with the agency. Rich likes what he sees and convinces Luke to come to New York when he’s ready to take his modeling career seriously. When Luke’s abusive father lashes out at him, Luke decides the time to get serious is now. As darkness falls, Luke packs his bags and runs away to pursue his dreams.
Rich’s predatory nature is quickly revealed when Luke arrives. The bright-eyed, naïve Luke is easily influenced by Rich. However, Luke is similarly manipulated by Tim, who seems to envy Luke for his innocence, youth, and freedom. Each man attempts to bend Luke to satisfy his own needs or assumed needs for Luke. In reality, Luke appears a small lion cub, being circled by a vulture and a hyena.
In many ways, Grinder is a cruel film. With just a handful of sadistic characters in his script, Ruckdashel creates a dog eat dog setting where nice guys dare not go. In this world of power struggles, homophobia, and manipulation, the outlook doesn’t look good for Luke. Nor does it look very good for Tim, who is good at heart, but seems to have missed an opportunity to live the life he really wanted. In truth, these are the victims of the Grinder – men with big dreams and great expectations who tragically get sucked in the churning machine that grinds them up and spits them out as something much less than what they really are. Ruckdashel is careful, however, not to leave his characters with nothing but doom and gloom. New opportunities are always on the horizon for those who have the energy to pursue them.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Ruckus Film Works