Sequin In A Blue Room ****
Starring: Conor Leach, Simon Croker, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Samuel Barrie, Ed Wightman
Director: Samuel Van Grinsven
The arrival of Grindr in 2009 has meant that the current generation of teenagers are growing up in a way that no other has before them. Gone are the times of “casually” leafing through the underwear section of the Littlewoods catalogue, or hoping for a glimpse of a soapstar on TV in a towel; all the fodder needed for a sexual awakening are available at their fingertips, not only to see, but also to go and actually experience in the flesh. I shudder to think how dangerous it could have been if I had acted on the things I wanted to do as a teen, but the internet now means that this is both feasible and easy.
Sequin (Leach) is the screen-name of a sixteen year-old boy, still at high school. Bored in his lessons, he doggedly trawls the apps, hunting for hook-ups. His classmate Tommy (Croker) is trying to flirt with him the old-fashioned way inviting him for a date to the cinema, but this is far too vanilla for a boy who’s now used to anonymous sex and has fatally caught the bug. His online persona is one of mystery, arriving in a sequined crop-top that he doesn’t take off as he meets for sex with each and every stranger on ‘Anon’, the app he uses for hours each day.
He is invited to an anonymous sex party at a warehouse, where men are living out their fantasies in blue-lit cubicles made of plastic sheeting, which is maze-like, stark and bewildering. The rules are strict: No names. No rules. There, he meets a handsome stranger (Barrie), as well as being pursued by an older man he has met before (Wightman). After, he contacts the latter in an attempt to track the man he liked, but is extremely perturbed to find that this stranger knows a considerable amount about him, far more than he ever divulged online. Sequin enjoys the power of blocking the men he has met just once for sex, but it’s when he realises that in real-life people can’t be blocked that the stakes are suddenly raised.
What follows is an unsettling thriller, in which the naïve Sequin’s fantasy and real lives collide. Sequin has become so aloof and removed from day-to-day life that his sex addiction is in complete control of him. The men he meets are just fragmented encounters, but when we see beyond that and this shadowy figure begins infiltrating reality, it becomes abundantly clear that the danger Sequin has exposed himself to won’t just be threatening his fantasy life. The boy is beguiled of this over-sexed world he has discovered, but he’s not realised that its danger is, actually, dangerous.
This is an incredibly dark coming-of-age drama, which exposes just how easy it is for innocence to be corrupted in the online sphere. Sequin’s father (Taylor) believes he is doing the right thing by giving his son the freedom to live his own life without interference, but despite how much the boy thinks he is an adult, it’s indelibly clear that he’s not. While the film does much to explore sexual fantasy, sexual awakening and gender liberation, it’s this looming threat that is waiting to snatch Sequin that dominates the movie, in a cautionary tale about the dark underbelly of the last decade of hook-up culture.
The scene in the titular “blue room” is a beautiful piece of filmmaking, with languorous editing and a striking electric blue palate. This dreamlike sequence is revisited throughout the film, peppering the narrative with the ethereal otherworldliness that he was too young to have seen. Though light on dialogue, the film relies heavily on the ample skills of its lead, who is utterly compelling as the malcontent teen whose real name we never learn.
This is an arresting debut for director Van Grinsven, whose take on this erotic thriller is to shine a light on the online sex that has become intrinsically linked with gay men today. For those who have lived unexposed to the reality of hook-up apps, this film may come as a shock, but for the initiated, it is an uncomfortable expose of its dark normality in the harsh light of day.
UK RELEASE: 9th April 2021 On Demand, released by Peccadillo Pictures