The Special Shelf: Not In Front of the Straight People
Writing about film is an unmitigated joy. There are so many possibilities to view, and experience, and share, and what I want to get into today is a subgenre of cinema that I like to call “Not In Front Of The Straight People” movies. These are films that deal with issues that are complicated within our community. They deal with material that we all have better things to do than to have to explain, in all their many facets, to well-meaning, inquisitive, or (most often) bad faith homophobes looking for something to wield against us.
It’s not a new kind of movie—The Boys in The Band set the tone for it, dishing dirt and hashing things out by LGBTQIA+ characters in a milieu where straight people are absent or are quietly observant guests. For the longest time, low budget adaptations of plays (think Torch Song Trilogy, Love! Valour! Compassion!, or Jeffrey, to get all ‘90s with it) are where you would most often see this kind of film. But recently, it’s been a genre film that’s been stepping up and addressing some of the more problematic issues that we’re dealing with.
2019’s Midnight Kiss (now streaming on Hulu) is part of Blumhouse Productions’ monthly Into The Dark series, which comes out with a new horror film tied to a holiday of some sort. This one, directed by Carter Smith (of the deliriously fun killer plant romp The Ruins, and the horrifying and all too relatable Bugcrush) and written by Erlingur Thoroddsen (who wrote and directed Rift, which is an Icelandic film that manages to tell a queer suspense narrative with no cliches whatsoever), has an almost completely queer cast, including Lukas Gage from Euphoria, Augustus Prew from About A Boy as our protagonist, and Scott Evans.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and a group of gay friends (and their one straight female longtime associate) are heading off to a vacation home in Palm Springs. They’ve been doing this for years, and some strain is starting to show. It seems like everyone has dated everyone else, and there’s an engagement on deck, and no one wants the same thing as anybody else. Oh, and there’s a murderer on the loose. He wears a pup mask, and he’s got that grand old horror trope—secrets from the past—in common with seemingly everyone in the cast.
So Midnight Kiss is a very classic 1980s slasher film in structure and narrative, but it is explicitly focused on issues like opening relationships, and bottom shaming, and ultimately addresses the abject cruelty with which we treat our own. I’m not saying that the murderer was right, or anything close to that. But if you can keep your moral table tennis skills up, this film asks a lot of really interesting questions about queer lives and what that means when we (for the time being) have gay marriage but also the enervating death spiral of the planet under the Trump administration. It is exactly the kind of slasher film a young gay viewer in the ‘80s would have wanted to see, with exactly the same louche attitude toward semigratuitous nudity.
If you really want to see a film that will freak out even your most good-hearted of straight friends, may I direct you to Jim Hansen’s You’re Killing Me, from 2015 (currently on Amazon Prime and Hulu). It’s not ‘scary,’ per se, but it is the most ruthless comedy you may see this decade, and it is utterly horrifying for anyone who wants to believe that queer people aren’t as venal, violent, and destructive as straight people are.
What happens when that one friend of yours starts bringing around his new boyfriend, who’s just so hot you could die? That’s the thing about Joe, though. He’s quite up front about being a serial killer. But everyone who talks to him just thinks he’s got a morbid, deadpan sense of humor because he’s so hot—like, think Antoni Porowski hot, where the eyes tell secrets.
Even when people start dying, nobody could accept Joe’s genuine forthrightness about who he is and what he does. And honestly, if someone is going to make a film about how abs and a pretty face can keep so many dickmatized, I’m glad it’s actual talented gay people. You’re Killing Me has Drew Droege, and Jeffrey Self, and Sam Pancake, and Edi Patterson from The Righetous Gemstones, and it is a superb film that will provoke some deep discussions. Like some of the best examples of queer cinema, show it to your straight friends at your own risk.