“Leach’s performance as the casually playful and assuredly confident Sequin is exquisite.”
Samuel Van Grinsven’s Australian coming-of-age debut feature centres on an intense exploration of anonymity, sex, and social media. Embedded in the digital age, Sequin in a Blue Room is a stylish and intensely focused portrait of hook-up culture through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old. As his English teacher lectures about texts that capture the burning intensity of obsessive love – like that of “Heathcliff to Catherine. Francis to Nicholas. Darcy to Elizabeth. Ripley to Dickie. Humbert to Lolita.” – Sequin’s (Conor Leach) attention drifts to his phone beneath the desk. Scrolling through endless images of bare torsos and thirst traps, the young man zones out of his class to daydream about the touch of naked skin.
Dim elevator rides and aimlessly long corridors mark the path of Sequin’s desire. Craving the allure of no-strings-attached sexual pleasure, the instant gratification of one-night stands is paired with Sequin’s strict rule to never see the same man twice. Van Grinsven initially frames these nameless men as silhouettes, outlines of broad shoulders and square jaws that are indistinguishable from one other. The only lingering intimacy is that between Sequin and Van Grinsven’s lens, where extreme close-ups show laughter lines and sparse freckles on the young man’s expressive face.
Sequin’s intrigue is piqued when an invitation to the titular Blue Room – an anonymous sex party – arrives in his inbox. Though it is the start of a downwards spiral. Sequin steps foot into the strobing fluorescent blue light, where translucent walls of draped plastic create a maze of bodies. His sequin crop top scratches against his skin, but twinkles against the neon light; the sacrifice of comfort for pleasure is an underlying tension throughout Van Grinsven’s film. When prowling the Blue Room, Sequin spots B (Ed Wightman), a 45-year-old married man he’d previously hooked up with and blocked. B has since developed a disturbing obsession with the young man, sending relentless messages that grow violent, using sex for power and knowledge for blackmail. In trying to escape B’s gaze, Sequin stumbles into Edward (Samuel Barrie), and the pulsing beat of electric bass-heavy music fades into a stirringly heavenly soundtrack. Breaking the “no talking” rule, the pair’s dialogue is audibly silent and, instead, subtitled. Entranced, Sequin begins to retrace his steps in order to reconnect with Edward, a man of mystery whose presence seemingly dissolves into thin air.
This fleeting but intimate connection with Edward is the driving force of Sequin in a Blue Room and the spark for Sequin’s valiant chase of desire. Van Grinsven and Jory Anast’s script navigates the danger of online-initiated hook-up culture. Sequin’s father (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) is the voice of this concern, growing frustrated at his son’s lack of communication. Van Grinsven’s film boldly navigates how quickly euphoria can plunge into fear, particularly when Sequin’s preserved anonymity is compromised. Such moments are wonderfully executed with an absence of dialogue, instead wholeheartedly relying on Conor Leach’s intoxicating performance.
In this narrowly focused framing of sexuality, Sequin in a Blue Room is explicit but never graphic. As the film progresses, Sequin is only observed after sunset where the camera mostly lingers above torsos – even in sex scenes – but stuttered breath and jangling belts become part of a rehearsed choreography for Sequin.
Throughout the waves of nauseating anxiety and elated exhilaration from this intrepid search for Edward, Leach’s performance as the casually playful and assuredly confident Sequin is exquisite. Cinematographer Jay Grant keeps focus on Leach’s sharp features and pointed gaze with hair-raising closeness. Simultaneously brash and insecure, Leach’s facial expressions effortlessly communicate Sequin’s fluctuating emotional stance. Leach is hypnotising in every shot, exploring the building obsession that creeps slowly to the forefront of Sequin’s mind.
Virginia (Anthony Brandon Wong) – a drag queen who takes Sequin under their wing – is a late addition, but beautifully integrated. Virginia quickly morphs into a guardian figure who understands the gay culture in which Sequin is embedded. Additionally, Tommy (Simon Croker) – a fellow student in Sequin’s English class – strikes up flirtatious advances with a subtleness that goes over Sequin’s head. Both Tommy and Virginia are two characters whose warming presence is sparse but their inclusion is both valued and heartfelt, in contrast to the cold toxicity Sequin otherwise encounters.
Interestingly, Sequin’s narrative is part of a growing collection of queer coming-of-age narratives, refreshingly situated post-coming-out. Instead of focusing on Sequin’s coming out, Van Grinsven’s film finds Sequin already comfortable and confident with his identity. With no shame of queerness, Sequin in a Blue Room is a revitalized queer narrative that charts a young man’s burgeoning desire with visceral visual intimacy and honed dramatic intensity.
Sequin in a Blue Room is released via Peccadillo Pictures on UK/Ireland digital platforms from 9th April. The film is released in the US & Scandinavia from 17th May.
Director: Samuel Van Grinsven
Writers: Samuel Van Grinsven and Jory Anast
Producers: Sophie Hattch and Linus Gibson
Cast: Conor Leach, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Samuel Barrie
Release: April 9th
image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures