The opening credits introduce Sequin in a Blue Room as “a homosexual film by Samuel Van Grinsven.” That title card makes Sequin a surprising choice for a youth-oriented festival like TIFF Next Wave. However, it’s also a necessary one—not for identifying the flamboyant film’s obvious orientation, but for its unabashed pride.
Sequin in a Blue Room is a risqué teen drama about the thrills and perils of recreational sex. It’s a cautionary tale about digital dating, but also a bracing and eye-poppingly gorgeous film that teens get too rarely. Van Grinsven’s film is an assured debut with intoxicating visuals, sharp performances, and just the right hint of danger. It offers a welcome window for queer or questioning audiences wondering about how best to explore their sexual selves. It’s ballsy for a teen-orientated drama, but tastefully and carefully handled. The film’s care to stage erotic drama without being explicit adds to its inclusive appeal. For a film about cruising and casual banging, it’s relatively tame without feeling neutered.
A Breakout Performance by Conor Leach
Much of this raw power comes from star Conor Leach. He gives a true breakout performance in the title role as a sixteen-year-old twink who names himself after the sequined crop top he dons for sex. Leach gives a brave and confident performance. He holds virtually every frame of the film. Van Grinsven’s moody style often leaves it to the actor to do the talking, as Sequin scrolls through dating app profiles and cruises through the clubs. Effect use of social media and on-screen graphics task Leach with setting the mood through Sequin’s silent expressions. Sequin twitches in his desk, his interest aroused by the notifications and messages that fuel the film’s pulse rate.
Even though he isn’t old enough to drive, the dating scene bores Sequin. His classmate Tommy (Simon Croker) all but throws himself at him, making small chat about Brokeback Mountain and turning pining looks in his direction during class. However, Sequin barely notices as his eyes continually flicker to his phone. He’s the product of a plugged-in generation raised on instant gratification. That isn’t healthy and Sequin in a Blue Room delivers its fable on hookup culture without beating it up over the head. Try everything once, the film says, but keep your reality in check. Sequin learns this challenge as he navigates the balance between agency and reckless behaviour.
Van Grinsven unfolds the film through ten chapters that count down through the apartments Sequin visits during his sexcapades. He favours older men and he hunts for silver foxes hungry for fresh meat. Sequin gives men the thrill they couldn’t experience during their youthful days in close-minded generations. The jailbait/daddy play is icky, but Sequin clearly gets off—and feels empowered by—this element of control in the exchange. The power play is further evident in the quick block he gives his hook-ups’ profiles shortly after sex.
A Sensuous Centrepiece
Following a few quick-and-dirty romps, though, Sequin’s reputation earns him an invite to “the Blue Room.” Naturally, it piques his interest as his boredom wanes score after score. The Blue Room offers the film’s centrepiece as Van Grinsven stages a vividly and sensuously shot sex-den. It proves an oasis for Sequin as he escapes his dull, conservative school scene. The party, replete with men way older than himself, proves him a prime real estate. However, once he hooks up with a virile young man who saves him from one of his former flings, Sequin is love-struck. He learns that a downside of anonymous sex is tracking down yesterday’s conquests. Sequin’s search for love takes him down a violent path that delivers deep physical and emotional blows. The film has a palpable sense of loneliness and emptiness throughout the digital seduction Sequin dances with his phone.
It is admittedly uncomfortable to watch this youngster go down the rabbit hole and flirt with predatory behaviour. However, Sequin in a Blue Room isn’t another tragedy in which the gays suffer for behaviour that the normies deem transgressive. The film gives Sequin a rude awakening and Generation Z kids a reminder to put down their phones and explore human connections the analogue way like Millennials did. This festival darling from Down Under offers a great “coming out” for Van Grinsven and Leach. Expect more “homosexual films” to come.
Sequin in a Blue Room screens at TIFF Next Wave on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 9:00 PM