“Sequin in a Blue Room,” identified as “a homosexual film by Samuel Van Grinsven,” is a crisp, minimalist, and some might say pretentious drama about Sequin (Conor Leach) having a series of anonymous gay sexual encounters.
A high school student who claims he is 18 — he is, in fact, 16 — Sequin’s online handle derives from the glittery halter top he wears when he meets men using “anon,” a hookup app. (No one seems to comment about his silvery article of clothing, but one gentleman does pick up a detached sequin after a tryst and fondles it nostalgically.)
Van Grinsven’s homosexual film (it is hard not to insist on calling it that) is more enigmatic than erotic. Despite numerous sexual encounters, there is very brief nudity, and most of the couplings lack romantic passion. It is more creepy than sexy watching B (Ed Wightman), whose handle is “Discrete Daddy,” ask Sequin to close the curtains and undress so he can have his way with him.
“Sequin in a Blue Room” deliberately provides no explanation for its protagonist’s behavior, which can be seen as reckless or sex positive. This may be Van Grinsven’s way of letting viewers form their own opinions. Does Sequin have daddy issues? His father, (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) gives his son pretty much free reign, asking only that Sequin text him his whereabouts so he does not worry.
Is Sequin looking for love? His classmate, Tommy (Simon Croker), is obviously enamored with him and invites him to the movies (after they masturbate side-by-side in adjoining bathroom stalls at school).
Or is he just experimenting with his sexuality and gaining experience? Sequin’s policy is to block anyone he has had sex with, telling B that he “doesn’t see people twice.”
All or none of the above may be true. It does not really matter. The cool, detached storytelling hardly invites emotional connection. That Leach plays up Sequin’s insouciance only emphasizes this dispassionate vibe.
Then there is the pivotal set piece, a wordless sequence that unfolds in “The Blue Room,” of the title, an anonymous, invite-only sex party. Conor is fascinated by this “apartment” which features plastic walls where he can see men having sex as he wanders the hallways. He is lured through the space by D (Damian de Montemas), but when he is spotted by B, Sequin makes an escape by coupling up with F (Samuel Barrie) a young man with whom he experiences sexual pleasure. “Find me out there,” F communicates to Sequin, who wants to break his own rule and reconnect.
“Sequin in a Blue Room” generates most of its dramatic tension not from Sequin’s pursuit of F, but from his subsequent encounters with B. He agrees to see B again because he wants access to the Blue Room in the hope of reuniting with F. When Sequin logs into B’s phone, post-sex, he discovers messages that unsettle him and prompt him to steal the device. This leads to a game of cat and mouse between B and Sequin. B tracks Sequin down; Sequin debates whether to message B’s wife. There is a potentially fraught situation involving Sequin meeting drag queen Virginia (Anthony Brandon Wong) when it is revealed that B is on his way over to trap him.
Van Grinsven films all of these events artfully, but they feel empty. Likewise, scenes of Sequin taking a shower and reflecting on his sexual experiences fail to achieve any real meaning. His connection with F feels superficial, which does not warrant the investment Sequin makes to reunite with this potential boyfriend. And there are painfully obvious scenes of Sequin in school being lectured by an unseen teacher (Tsu Shan Chambers) about tropes of love and obsession in literature.
However, Sequin is not very likable or sympathetic (And not just because he appreciates “Twilight”). He is cruel towards Tommy, remote to his accepting and well-meaning father, and aloof towards most everyone else. He agrees to one hookup just to get information he was promised about F. Sequin may be a self-centered teen, but it is not until late in the film — when he seeks refuge with the kind Virginia, who takes him in after a rough night — that he drops his cold demeanor and deserves pity and compassion.
But by then it may be too late. “Sequin in a Blue Room” prefers style over substance. The film is gorgeously lensed by cinematographer Jay Grant. A shot of Sequin face-down in a pillow during sex with B is particularly arresting — not just because of the power dynamic at play, but because Leach conveys so much pleasure and pain with his wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression. In addition, the “anon” app is incorporated well throughout the film.
Van Grinsven certainly has talent to burn, but despite its potential, this intriguing coming-of-age film never quite excites.
SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM | Directed by Samuel Van Grinsven | Available May 18 on Apple, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, and Peccadillo POD | Distributed by Peccadillo Pictures
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