Tuesday, June 9, 2020

G is for...Grindr

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation. This week, I'm writing about the TV series Into The Dark's gleefully gay installment "Midnight Kiss."

What's this "Midnight Kiss" all about?

"Midnight Kiss", the fourth episode of the second season of the horror anthology series Into The Dark, revolves around a circle of friends located in Palm Springs, California whom gather annually to celebrate New Year's together. The friends include coy Cameron (Augustus Prew), controlling Joel (Scott Evans), fun loving Hannah (Ayden Mayeri), flamboyant Zachary (Chester Lockhart), naive Logan (Luke Gage), and Ryan (Will Westwater), who doesn't get a defining trait as he's the opening kill. Part of the friends's New Year's tradition is a game called midnight kiss, in which each person finds a man willing to kiss them (consensually, of course) and then have the option to take them home afterwards or not. In the midst of their celebrations, a killer wearing a pup mask begins to target the friends one by one with the intent on wiping them all out. Can the friends contend with the killer, as well as the rising animosity among themselves?

The main ensemble of "Midnight Kiss", in (slightly) better times

What's so queer about "Midnight Kiss"?

"Midnight Kiss" was queer from its genesis onward: Screenwriter Erlingur Thoroddsen, who is queer himself, was approached by Blumhouse Studios to craft an episode for the New Year's slot for Into The Dark's second season. He was not given many specifications, besides the New Year's theme and to craft his screenplay with some queer male content which he obviously ran with. Eventually, Carter Smith, who identifies as gay, was hired to direct, and the cast of mostly queer male actors as the gay male characters, something that was an order of Blumhouse interestingly enough, was assembled. The queer men cast includes Prew, Evans, Lockhart, Gage and Adam Faison, who plays Cameron's potential midnight kiss Dante.

Thoroddsen and Smith's work, itself, is also seeped in several things gay: Besides the characters with the exception of Hannah all being gay men, "Midnight Kiss" examines certain aspects of gay male culture. Including the potential incestuous nature of gay male friend circles (memorably referred to the "sluttiest game of musical chairs ever"), the effects of rejection and gate keeping in the gay community and circuit parties. Plus the use of gay male vernaculars, such as the discussion of using hookup apps including Grindr, the use of PrEP and, of course, the iconic insult, "fucking psychopath bottom who doesn't know what he wants." "Midnight Kiss" also isn't afraid to depict gay male sexuality frankly, as there's multiple love scenes with the men and many, many male ass shots. Those ass shots are abundant to the point where I tried to count how many there were on my last viewing, and let's just say there's enough butt shots to give you alcohol poisoning if you tried to do a drinking game to this.

Some slices of the queer male sexuality of "Midnight Kiss"

I also think it's worth noting that "Midnight Kiss" does take its time to explore the effects of abuse in gay male relationships through the character of Joel and his relationships with Cameron and Logan. Joel, who used to date Cameron before they broke up and is now engaged to Logan, is shown to be an abuser who tries to dominate every aspect of his and Logan's new relationship, while secretly desiring to have Cameron back in his grasp without actually having to commit to him. This isn't explored as often as one might expect, especially in mainstream American LGBTQ+ content, so I give props to Thoroddsen and Smith for willing to explore this in the film.

Is this good queer representation?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about "Midnight Kiss"'s representation: On one hand, I think the film does an awesome job at normalizing gay men. Their conversations, behaviors and culture are not made a spectacle of or made fun of unless it's the characters teasing each other. Certain issues within the gay male community are also treated with legitimacy, something we can likely credit to having multiple queer men behind the camera as well as in front of it. It's also really great to see a proper gay male slasher since, from what I've learned from listening to one of the latest episodes of the amazing Horror Queers podcast, the only other proper gay male slashers are 2004's Hellbent and 2018's Killer Unicorn, neither of which I can comment on since I haven't seen either. Another aspect of the film that I really like is the casting of Augustus Prew as final boy Cameron: Not only do I enjoy his performance but, as a gay man who's never been skinny myself, it's awesome to see Prew not be stick thin or extremely buff as most queer men in the media seem to be. I'm not calling Prew fat, or even chubby frankly, but seeing a queer man on screen who isn't super muscular or a size zero is fucking awesome.

Where my less than positive feelings come in is with regards to the character of Hannah: While I do enjoy Ayden Mayeri's performance and the fun energy the character brings, it kind of rubs me the wrong way that the heart of a film so heavy on the queer male content is a straight woman and her friendship with one of the gay men. I personally feel that there are two things that would've made me like "Midnight Kiss" even more: One, make Hannah the killer and give us some commentary on the sometimes fetishistic treatment of queer men and their sexuality by straight women. And two, make the heart of the film the dynamic between Cameron and Logan, which would hypothetically burgeon after surviving both a killer and Joel's abuse of them. In my opinion, that could have been some legitimately powerful material. Alas, I don't fault Midnight Kiss for not going in a different direction with its choices, but I can't help but feel there were some missed opportunities. However, "Midnight Kiss" does a good enough job with its representation that I do recommend seeking this out on Hulu.

Cameron & Hannah: The heart of "Midnight Kiss"

Next week: I'm heading from the G to the B with a film that I consider director Lucky McKee's masterpiece, 2002's May starring Angela Bettis.

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