Sequin in a Blue Room takes an erotic and occasionally hallucinatory journey through the beguiling yet perilous world of anonymous online hookups.
“Sequin” (Conor Leach) is a sixteen-year-old who uses an app called Anon for anonymous hookups with older men to explore his sexuality. We don’t know much about him, not even his real name—he calls himself “Sequin” because he wears a silver sequin top during each encounter—but his profile reads “curious” and he blocks users after each hookup since he prefers completely anonymous, no strings attached encounters. After hooking up with “B” (Ed Wightman), an older man who wants to see him again, Sequin is invited to a sex party at a place called “Blue Room,” where everything is strictly anonymous, no names are shared, and even talking is forbidden. He gladly accepts the invitation and visits Blue Room, enticed by the brief glimpses of what he sees inside.
Sequin is suddenly shocked to see B there, who begins pursuing him. Looking for another partner, Sequin meets a young black man (Samuel Barrie) and the two hide behind a curtain and share a passionate moment together. After this transformational night at Blue Room, he begins searching for the man he had sex with, while his classmate Tommy (Simon Croker) begins to show an interest in him. Since he can’t contact Blue Room anymore, Sequin reaches out to B again so he can learn where to find his mysterious lover. However, after an intense hookup, Sequin learns about B’s obsession with him and the man begins harassing him. Trying to evade the sinister advances of B and searching for his mysterious lover from Blue Room, Sequin is taken on a dark and unsettling yet transformational journey through the world of sex, digital anonymity, and the challenges of young relationships.
Sequin in a Blue Room is a remarkable feature debut from Samuel Van Grinsven, showcasing a sharp eye for visual storytelling and style. While very economical, it stays focused on its inner journeys, often keeping supporting characters and details of its setting out of frame. We’re told from details on apps that the story is set in Sydney, Australia, but we’re given no establishing shots or recognizable location details. It’s an inspired choice, as the film has a very liminal feeling through its settings—bedrooms and even Sequin’s own home are given the same feeling of transience as a train station or anonymous sex club. It’s small details like these that craft a deeper sense of character—everywhere, even his own home and school feel temporary as Sequin is still searching to discover himself. Meanwhile, characters like his English teacher are relegated out of frame, showing us how disconnected he is from the rest of his seemingly ordinary teenage life.
Even more impressive is the film’s sense of atmosphere. It’s very enticing, both in its sense of mystery and sense of danger, and Sequin in a Blue Room cleverly crafts a compelling aesthetic hook to pull us inside its world of online hookups and a dangerous game of obsession. Particularly memorable is the sequence in the Blue Room, the film’s signature set piece where Sequin wanders through the labyrinthine sex club. Moving in and out of focus, the camera movements are kept slow and graceful, building erotic momentum as we see quick glimpses of sex behind translucent curtains while pulsating electronica stimulates our ears. Even though it’s a scene where the explicit details are kept out of view, it maintains a proper erotic feel and even drifts into moody, dreamlike territory.
Unfortunately, Sequin in a Blue Room’s greatest weakness is its screenplay. Small details build the characters and world they live in, but it’s difficult to find much emotional connection to them, especially our protagonist Sequin. He’s an intriguing and enigmatic character, but his emotional arc doesn’t feel very convincing until a couple pivotal sequences at the end, and by then, it’s too late to make much of an impact. Even more infuriating is the film’s sense of genre identity. Sequin in a Blue Room begins as a beguiling, atmospheric erotic thriller set within its own world that feels removed from any recognizable setting with its heightening psychological setting. Its story of sexual curiosity soon unfolds into a sinister narrative of obsession and danger but seems to forget that premise by the end and instead veers into a coming-of-age narrative about navigating relationships and early adulthood.
Even the visuals take that abrupt tonal shift, with scenes that are so brightly lit they harshly contrast with the shadowy, neon images that occur earlier. Meanwhile, a visceral climax of sorts occurs too soon, leaving the proper climax for a more emotional denouement that feels wildly out of place with the rest of the story that came before it. By the end, the story seems confused with itself since the plot around Sequin pursuing his unknown lover from Blue Room doesn’t feel all that convincing to begin with. Even with its brief 80-minute runtime, it loses almost all of its momentum about an hour in and you get the sense that the film would have worked better if it committed to one of its opposing tonal halves—either a coming of age drama or a slick erotic thriller, preferably the latter for something more unique and intriguing.
Regardless, Sequin in a Blue Room is worth a watch for its assured direction and slick style that’s quite impressive for a director’s first feature. Conor Leach’s lead performance is quite captivating too and he manages to create a compelling onscreen presence despite the screenplay giving his character very little detail. And it’s also refreshing to see an LGBT erotic thriller that feels very genuine in its representation of gay desire and also in its unabashed eroticism.
Sequin in a Blue Room will be released on all major VOD Platform (Apple, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, PeccadilloPOD) in the U.S. on May 18, 2021.
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