This supremely confident and sensually shot debut from Samuel Van Grinsven is unafraid to tackle difficult subject matter
The sexlessness of modern cinema is fully rejected in Sequin in a Blue Room, a mixture of character study and erotic thriller that opens with the declaration: “A homosexual film by Samuel Van Grinsven.” Set in present-day Sydney, it follows Sequin (Conor Leach), a 16-year-old who takes to posing as an 18-year-old on a Grindr-style app, so named because of the sequin crop-top that he wears during sexual encounters.
Addicted to anonymous hook-ups with older men whom he immediately blocks afterwards, he finds himself the target of a middle-aged predator, known only as B. (Ed Wightman). After an initial hook-up, B. begins to stalk Sequin, engineering an invite for him to enter the eponymous blue room, a weekly anonymous orgy held in some disused part of the city. It’s in the blue room that Sequin becomes infatuated with the gloriously handsome E. (Samuel Barrie) and later attempts to seek him out.
Sequin in a Blue Room is unafraid to take a frank and non-judgemental look at the world of anonymous hook-ups and their relationship to gay culture – it acknowledges the thrill and pleasure of no-strings-attached sex whilst finding ways to depict how malicious and abusive behaviours are able to thrive within this context, often aided by the power of social media and secrecy.
The influence of Mysterious Skin filmmaker Gregg Araki is all over Sequin, while its frank look at cruising culture recalls Alain Guiraudie’s excellent Stranger by the Lake. Where that film used the shimmering summer heat of a countryside lake-cum-gay cruising spot as it central location, Sequin in a Blue Room exists entirely in a blandly modern Sydney, shorn of its identifying marks: beige hotel rooms, empty warehouses, an endless procession of identikit apartments, mirroring Sequin’s initially emotionless nature. We repeatedly return to the image of Sequin showering after sex, a private space allowing him to reflect on his memories with a mix of pleasure, shame, and self-loathing.
The film rests on Conor Leach's stripped back and minimal lead performance. Where many a young actor may have been tempted to overreach, self-conscious of the camera, Leach steps back – with cheekbones sharp enough to impress a young Alain Delon, he has some of that genuine old-school movie star charisma. Sequin begins the film as emotionally immature and perpetually horny in the way that teenage boys so often are, an immaturity exacerbated by the distance of social media. That the character’s journey towards self-realisation feels so sensitively handled is in large part down to Leach.
This journey is bolstered by some spectacular direction – the initial blue room scene is shot with thundering techno, luxuriating in half-speed movements. Sequin enters a space that appears to reach towards the heavens of ecstasy, but unbeknownst to him is fraught with the dangers of manipulative men who treat sex as a form of power dominance.
It’s rare that a film handles sex and its many complications and pleasures as honestly as this one. To do it without making any judgements of its protagonist, even more so.
Sequin in a Blue Room is now available on digital platforms.Where to watch