Drown (2015) (Unrated)
This review contains SPOILERS!
Have you ever seen a hazing? Maybe you've just heard about them. Upon hearing or seeing did you think to yourself, "damn, that's hot"? Because I'm pretty sure Dean Francis did. Everything in "Drown" is supercharged with a homophobic lens that can't help but eroticize every single action in the movie. It ogles men's bodies, noting their muscular physique, the story makes sure that almost all screen time is eaten up with speedos and beach bodies, dripping in sweat. This is more homoerotic than "Top Gun".
But there's a danger to this. The film's protagonist is so avidly homophobic and closeted that he is willing to go through any lengths to maintain his rigid heterosexuality, while compulsively putting himself in situations that demand a certain level of homosexuality.
Len (Matt Levett) is a head lifesaver on a beach in Australia. He likes drinking, swimming, and being the best at both. For five years in a row he has won a regional swim match and for five years in a row he has been awarded the top lifesaver award for the club he represents. Everything changes when a new guard gets introduced into the mix. Phil (Jack Matthews) is an attractive, curly headed, softer-spoken guard who Len becomes radically obsessed with upon first sight.
The film is structured so that we aren't quite sure of the linear progression until the very end of the movie. The chronology is fractured and thus part of the fun is having to put the pieces back together. Unfortunately, unlike a movie like "Memento", when the pieces assemble they don't attempt at anything dramatic. Or rather, they try desperately and fail so badly we can't help but give the benefit of the doubt that this drama was not their intention.
Len seems privy to Phil's life in an oddly stalker-ish fashion. We see him sitting and staring off into the distance and pining over Phil, who has found a gay lover and seems to be settling down into something quite romantic. The film makes sure we notice how agitated Len is when he thinks about all the sexual moments Phil and his boyfriend find themselves in. The problem them arises that Len desperately wants to experiment with homosexuality but he can't because his father was so intensely homophobic it seems drilled into his being.
The issue with the film is its culmination/beginning. Because of the broken timeline, the movie starts with Len and his buddy Meat (Harry Cook) dragging Phil out onto the beach to haze him. This 'hazing' as I'm calling it, is more of a straight up assault but it presents a lot of issues concerning masculinity. Meat finds himself not wanting to comply as the events start to escalate and Len keeps upping the ante while Phil is so drunk he has to go along.
It's uncomfortable to say the least, mostly because we are supposed to care for Len, to feel his pains. He obviously has some sort of psychological issue that prompts him to keep thinking about death. The motif of a woman committing suicide by swimming out to sea keeps returning to Len. Since he begins the movie talking about the end of the world, we have to note as the film reaches its climax and everything starts to madly swirl together, crashing down on Len.
To be sure, there's a lot to be analyzed here; but that's not the issue. The issue is I think this analysis springs from a lack of intelligence. I don't think Dean Francis meant to make a movie like this. It is evident that he did not by the constant eroticism that permeates the screen.
Of course, I could be wrong. It could all be Len's mind and how every male body is so attractive and sexual to him; but I don't think that's it...and if it is, the film has one big plot moment I take issue with. Meat remembers his childhood in one scene and how he was bullied into showing his penis to some of the other boys. Being very well-endowed earns him his nickname, but that's not exactly the point here. Why does he get to control the narrative for one moment if this is entirely Len's movie? Furthermore, why does Len know everything about Phil and his boyfriend, including their sex life? Unless of course, this is all just "close eyed fantasy" as Len tells Meat in a scene.
As the film winds to a close the monstrosities get more and more bizarre until the commentary the movie could have been pushing for vanishes completely
It attempts to make the whole assault on Phil somehow sexy. The camera ogles his body, and Len can't seem to help but molest Phil, letting his hands wonder everywhere on his body. Their hips get pushed together, their lips almost meet, and in one particularly bizarre moment, Len forces Phil to gag himself and vomit. Len's fingers disappear into Phil's mouth and he begins pumping in and out and in and out, this goes on for a long time until finally Phil vomits and Len falls back on the ground with Phil on his chest, both of them heaving like they just orgasmed. What right does this moment have to be in the movie? Unless it's all about the hyperbole in which case, I find myself not interested.
This is Len's movie, not Phil's.
Len, who attempts to mirror the actions of the woman who swims out to sea and ends the movie this way. He, rigorously proving his masculinity and manhood to himself, swims and swims and fades from the narrative. Phil is left on the beach and the last shot of him is looking at to the ocean, wondering what happened to Len.
While the movie could be trying to help us rethink masculinity as a concept so as not to injure ourselves and others, I think it's just not that smart.
The movie is cheap, offensive, but it flirts with such odd concepts and such powerful images that it can't help but be vaguely interesting. I think in different hands, with a different director, this could have been great. Instead, I just feel sort of sick and confused.
Posted by Micah Jones