By Tara Judah
Two teenage boys, their faces partially obscured, revealing only their pimply, foul mouths, flick through a high school yearbook and make bullying and rapey remarks about their classmates. As a not too clear TV signal cuts in and out, we see that they have pornography on in the background. It’s a teenage boy’s bedroom, but there’s no mistaking that this is Locker Room Talk. The film, a beautifully rendered horrendous suburban story, is set in the 1990s but feels like Trump’s America incarnate.
Posing as a story about two friends whose paths diverge when one falls in love and the other accidentally kills a classmate, the lessons here are all about what happens when youth have no role models and no authority to keep them in line. Just as the current US political climate continues to reveal, words and actions have little to no consequence; lives, ethics and morals have no value.
First time feature filmmaker, Kevin Phillips, captures the sweet mundanity of suburbia well; the meaninglessness of the boys’ conversations as they discuss wanking, set against beautiful sunsets, are the kinds of motifs that form the backbone for nostalgia and evoke the notion of ‘formative’ experiences. But, and let’s be clear that the male characters are all unrepentant and abhorrent, Phillips’ film is no Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986); the boys have no future. Instead, this dramatic horror is characterised by absent fathers, failed morals, self-interest and extreme violence.
None of the characters are ever given any real interests and the only thing they seem to do is hang out until dark. There are no positive role models for them to look to; fathers are never present, older brothers are either away or aggressive without explanation and the matriarch is shown as ineffectual. The president, at the time the film is set, is Bill Clinton, another defunct male icon. Reminded of his presidency, on TV, inside the home run by a sympathetic but unable to intervene woman, we also recall the inability of his wife Hilary to be elected and stop the Trumpocalypse from taking place.
Narratively, standard horror plays out; bloody violence is prefigured in the film’s opening scene where a stag that has crashed through a window at the school is bleeding and in pain, and has its head violently stamped in to finish it off; dishonest kids steal and provoke each other until teenage angst erupts into bloody murder and, finally, once he has a taste for it, the killer goes on rampage. Other kids implicated simply try to cover it all up. Police – the patriarchal law that society still has, even if fathers are absent – bookend the film, stomping on the dying stag in scene one and taking the killer away when, at the film’s end, his bloody spree spills out of a family home and onto the street, for all to see. The law never speaks and its actions, in both instances, are too late. People are already dead and, again, in both instances, two young girls have witnessed the violence, understanding and expecting the world to be a place that cannot protect them from the explosion of male rage.
It is only at the end of the film that we understand why Phillips started with a stag crashing through a window at the local high school: it is the shock event that distracts from everything else that is going on. It is the bloody harbinger that makes us think nothing else so unfair, unexplainable and violent could possibly take place. But then it does.
The film is unthinkable and yet it is resonant and relevant. There is a beautiful world, hanging in the background but, as Phillips’ shows us, there will be no future if male desire goes unfettered. If Locker Room Talk is normalised then just how far away is the complete and utter denial of the value of another human life? According to Phillips, whose film’s score is like a heartbeat quickening every time raw masculinity unleashes itself, it is very close, indeed.
Filmmaker: Kevin Phillips
Producer: Richard Peete, Jett Steiger, Edward Parks
Production Company: Ways & Means, Neighborhood Watch , Om Films, Lila 9th Productions
Writer: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Cinematography: Eli Born
Editor: Ed Yonaitis
Sound Design: Colin Alexander
Music: Ben Frost
Cast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Max Talisman, Sawyer Barth, Amy Hargreaves, Adea Lennox