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Review: Femme – “An unapologetically queer genre film that packs a punch with a well-balanced mix of style and substance.”

After the Daniels and the Safdie Brothers (who are admittedly amongst their greatest inspiration) a new and exciting filmmaking duo is destined to take the indie scene by storm. With their feature debut Femme, based on their BIFA-winning and BAFTA-nominated short of the same name, co-writers/directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping have crafted an unapologetically queer genre film that packs a punch with a well-balanced mix of style and substance.

Part revenge tale, part erotic thriller or “queer noir” with a doomed love story, as the filmmakers have called it, Femme is an electrifying and rather timely exploration of toxic masculinity and internalised homophobia set in the seedy underbelly of nocturnal London, brought to life by a mesmerising pair of performances from Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay.

Jules (Stewart-Jarrett) is a drag performer who thrives on stage where he feels like his true self but one night, after a show, he gets brutally assaulted in a homophobic attack that leaves him with emotional scars deeper than the physical ones. Three months later he’s looking like a shell of his former self, no longer doing drag, numbing himself on the sofa playing video games hence worrying his chosen family of queer flatmates.

As he finally decides to get out of the house to shake himself up or maybe numb himself even more by visiting a gay sauna, nothing can prepare him for the serendipitous encounter with his assailant, Preston (MacKay), an overly tattooed, gym-pumped, evidently closeted and self-loathing alpha male with a short circuit who fails to recognise his former victim out of drag.

What follows is an unexpected hook-up where danger and excitement feed each other, leading to an opportunity for revenge that throws Jules into an intoxicatingly addictive spiral of reverse power play. The deeper he gets into Preston’s world, the harder it is to escape it. However, as he plots to tape the thuggish fiend in action during one of their torrid sex-counters to then expose him online, Jules begins to peel the layers of Preston’s vulnerability which makes him second-guess his own agenda.

No worries though, this isn’t a morality tale where everything is black and white or straight-forward. The filmmakers do a great job at highlighting the grey areas from the get-go and never shy away from the messy side of human life. They are brilliantly helped on this mission by their lead actors, who shine in their respective roles, capturing the deepest nuances of these characters’ tormented soul and whose chemistry is palpable from the very first time they lay eyes on each other.

I may have liked to learn more about Jules and Preston’s personal baggage, but no matter the details, truth is they’re both victims of a poisonous patriarchal society that crushes anyone who detours from its oppressive status quo. Freeman and Ping keep things on point throughout with a tight script that works like clockwork and doesn’t spare on the suspense. As Jules gets himself dragged more and more into his femme-fatale like revenge plan we are on the edge of our seat, trying to guess what happens next and pondering whether revenge would facilitate the healing of trauma at all.

Yet by the time I reached the cathartic climax, as a gay man who luckily has never experienced a homophobic attack but who rarely feels comfortable indulging in any PDA with his husband, I couldn’t help but feeling inspired to work harder on changing society’s perception of queer people. It’s not us who need to change or adapt but the other way around. And that’s why Femme is compelling cinema that needs and deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience.

Signature Entertainment presents Femme exclusively in cinemas 1st December.

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