Director Samuel Van Grinsven has said that making films which reflect the complexity of the queer community is his central aim as a filmmaker – and based on his debut film, Sequin in a Blue Room, he’s off to a great start in his quest to achieve this. His film, having its North American premiere at Outfest following a debut at June’s Sydney Film Festival, isn’t a universally relatable tale of finding love and exploring your identity, nor is his central character particularly likeable in his misguided pursuit of meaningless sex and the delusion of romantic happiness. But it is a striking character study, doubling up as a micro examination of a generation far more comfortable making anonymous connections over hook-up apps than discovering anything meaningful in real life.
Newcomer Conor Leach stars as Sequin, a 16 year old who doesn’t have the same trials and tribulations as other gay teens – he has a supportive father (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor), and a normal school life. But rather than be content with living out his teenage years, he lies about his age and hooks up with a string of guys he meets on a Grindr-style app, blocking every person the moment each encounter is over. One man he hooks up with, a married 40 something known only as “B” (Ed Wightman), develops an unhealthy obsession with Sequin, which only develops in intensity as both find themselves at a sex party. As Sequin breaks his own rule and falls for one of his casual hook ups (Samuel Barrie) in the blue room, he begins a quest to find his name, which leads him back to the manipulative older man, whose behaviour turns increasingly obsessive.
There’s a natural sense of unease surrounding any film depicting the sex life of a teenager, even if it very distinctly acts a commentary on the emptiness of a generation who grow accustomed to apps over finding love after coming out. Samuel Van Grinsven relies on that sense of unease, largely filming sex scenes as extreme close ups of faces, the titular character more often than not looking like he’s feigning enjoyment as to him, promiscuity is perceived to be a natural aspect of gay life. There is no romanticisation of his behaviour, approaching his daily routine with a sense of detachment, mirroring the emptiness of his every planned encounter.
Although Sequin in a Blue Room is a commentary on coming of age in the time of hook-up culture, it refrains from overtly fear mongering on the behaviours of today’s teens. By contrasting the behaviour of Sequin with his classmate Tommy (Simon Croker), a recognisably awkward teenager who is more preoccupied with finding a date than rushing to the next passionless lay, Van Grinsven may resort to the most simplistic dynamic in order to display the complexity of behaviours within the queer community, but it’s worthwhile to ensure it can’t be interpreted as a handwringing moral panic. He manages to comment on a certain aspect of the modern queer experience without lazily reducing it to the lived-in experience of an entire generation.
When the film moves in a more conventional thriller direction, pitched somewhere between Death in Venice and Searching, it doesn’t dilute this commentary. Even the moral resolution (in the simplest, vaguest terms, putting down your damn phone and meeting real people) feels far less “old man yells at cloud” than the average story about the dark relationship between teens and tech. After watching, the most impressive achievement with the film is that it effectively creates a lingering unease in its exploration of this theme while holding the audience at arm’s length, ensuring there is no chance of anything being viewed as titillating.
Sequin in a Blue Room is an effective directorial debut, handling a problematic character study with surprising care.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Samuel Van Grinsven