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Written By:

Kieron Moore
George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in Femme

If you’re looking for a relaxing watch, Femme may not be the film for you, as it begins with Jules, a drag performer, being subjected to a horrific homophobic beating.

Three months after the assault, Jules, now traumatised and reclusive, makes a rare trip out of his house to a gay sauna. Who else should be there but his attacker, Preston – who doesn’t recognise him outside of drag.

Jules spots an opportunity, and begins a discreet but passionate affair with the closeted Preston. Hanging around with an intimidating gang and always desperate to show off his masculinity, Preston is the dominant figure in this relationship, sexually and otherwise, but Jules plots to get his revenge.

This cracking set-up leads to an unpredictable and tense story. Directed by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping based on their BAFTA-nominated short of the same name, Femme isn’t the kind of thriller that resorts to melodramatic twists; instead, gradual shifts in the power dynamic work brilliantly, not only to keep you on the edge of your seat, but also to get you questioning where your sympathies lie.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits) is excellent as Jules, at once a vulnerable victim and a cold, calculating revenge-seeker. And as Preston, the ever-brilliant George MacKay (1917) captivatingly brings to life the contradictions and internalised self- hate inherent in a man desperate to keep his sexuality a secret, with a volatile temper that could send the film spinning at any moment; if ever the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ was apt, it’s with this character.

Femme does very well what a lot of erotic thrillers fail to do – it presents the two elements, the erotic and the thriller, as inextricable parts of a whole, the sexual intensity of Jules and Preston’s encounters always overshadowed by – and sadomasochistically enhanced by – the threat of violence. Show this to anyone who goes in for the annoying internet discourse that sex scenes aren’t essential to movie’s plots, and they may have a heart attack.

It’s reminiscent of Friedkin’s Cruising, but from less of an outsider perspective, and very 21st-century. It’s sexy and visceral and edge-of-the-seat. Not easy viewing, but well worth the stress.

Femme is available now on Blu-ray and via digital platforms.

Kieron Moore

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