By Team Iris
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12th October 2019

Sex as Consumption – Sequin in a Blue Room

'Sequin in a Blue Room' is a dark tale of online hookups and obsession and will have its UK Premiere at this year's Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival. Our guest blogger Edward Lee looks at how recent films, including 'Sequin...', have addressed the dark side of social media and online dating.

There are picture descriptions for those with a visual impairment at the end of this post.

Back in 2014, Hollywood gifted the world with Unfriended, a cheap horror film taking place entirely on a laptop screen. Alongside its faux-important ‘message’ about the dangers of cyberbullying (namely that the bullied can return as vengeful digi-demons), Unfriended represents a studio’s attempt to cash-in on Gen Z audiences by cramming in online aspects of their life and culture. Featuring faithfully reconstructed depictions of the internet and social media, the film also hints at aspects of online life that do affect young people. Among these are the aforementioned cyberbullying, the sense of constant connectivity to the people around you, the secrets you can store online, and the inevitable discovery of those secrets. All these aspects materialise, however, as little more than surface-level semantics. The film presents no proper exploration of these ideas, but instead a modern paintjob to exploit young audiences.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

We’ve come a long way since Unfriended. The last three years have seen both independent and mainstream cinema and television catching up with the issues  facing young people today in our modern hyper-connected world. Ingrid Goes West (2017) examined an older generation, peeling back the #blessed veneer of aging hipster and millennial influencers, revealing the desperation in forging a ‘perfect’ life online. The Gen Z protagonists of Thoroughbreds (2017) grow up alienated from their families, suffering from social malaise and desensitisation, resulting in a neo-Hitchcockian generation-clash thriller.

Films like Tragedy Girls (2017) and Cam (2018) use serial killers and demonic doppelgängers to explore themes of pressure, fame, duality and online personas. The documentary Jawline (2019) follows a 16-year-old boy trying to escape a dead-end life by becoming a digital celebrity, and the comedy-drama Eight Grade (2018), arguably the most significant film on this subject in recent years , features an anxious thirteen-year-old girl facing the trials and tribulations of entering high school, while simultaneously coming out of her shell through her YouTube channel.

Conor Leach as Sequin in ‘Sequin in a Blue Room’

Joining these films, and evolving the discussion into a uniquely sexual and queer arena, we have Sequin in a Blue Room (2019), which is screening on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th October at this year’s Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival. Proudly emblazoned in its opening credits as “A Homosexual film by Samuel Van Grinsven”, it follows Sequin (Conor Leach), a 16-year-old who lives an emotionally detached life of anonymous sex, ghosting ex-partners, and largely ignoring everything around him save for his pleasure principle. After a chance encounter with a mystery man at the ‘Blue Room’ anonymous sex party, Sequin becomes obsessed with tracking down the man to see him once again, catching in their brief moments together a glimpse of tenderness and intimacy he hasn’t experienced before.

Sequin in a Blue Room reflects our current world of sensory overstimulation. Existing under a constant barrage of images and sounds when it comes to sex, we have myriad pornography and dating apps at our fingertips. But while this world can make people feel less repressed and give them more opportunities for release, it can be problematic. Overstimulation and instant gratification can lead to numbness. We are increasingly turned on yet shut off.

Within a very stylised framework, Sequin in a Blue Room immerses itself  in this world. Sex becomes a form of consumption; Sequin devours sexual partners and leaves them behind. His pleasure principle becomes his defining motivation day to day, to the point where an awkward boy attempting to ask him on a date in high school seems more alien to him than sex with a stranger. Sequin’s older hook-ups, with their aggressive sex, controlling nature, and misuse of the power and influence that comes with their age, become quasi-vampiric, as if they are attempting to consume Sequin’s vitality and youth.

Euphoria (2019)

With neon-drenched visuals and its discourse on teenage sexuality in a hyper-connected world, Sequin in a Blue Room shares some of its  tone and technique with the recent work of writer/director Sam Levinson, such as Assassination Nation (2018) and the hit HBO series Euphoria (2019). Both Sequin and Euphoria, in stamping home a point, construct a key scene of a teenager having sex with a much older man in a similar way. The editing is sharp, shots cutting to the rip of clothing. Sequin is pinned down. The camera stays on his face, the partner removed from the shot as they have sex. With the sound cutting in and out, and with his partner cut entirely from the frame, the sex is not a shared, sensory experience, but merely something happening to Sequin. The cumulative effect shows how sex can easily become an individually focussed, goal-oriented beginning and endpoint, rather than a shared experience of cyclical pleasure and intimacy.

Thankfully, Sequin does not judge its central character. The film’s ultimate sense of beauty and hope stems from its young characters, the same figures often shamed in the media for growing up in a sexually catalysed time. Yes, this online, Id-centric world we live in now can hurt people. It can negatively morph some people’s worldview on sex, but at the same time it can also connect people. There are quiet moments beyond the sound and fury of contemporary life. There’s still tenderness and affection out there, but sometimes it’s just below the surface.

Edward Lee is a freelance scriptwriter, arts journalist, actor and podcast host working out of Cardiff. Plagued with what some might call an unhealthy obsession with film academia, script writing and comic books, you can usually find him wandering the streets or woodland of Cardiff, attempting to summon an ancient deity or two.

Sequin in a Blue Room | Cineworld Cardiff | Sat 12 Oct 7pm (with Q&A) / Sun 13 Oct 2pm (BSL interpreted)

Buy Tickets

Actor Conor Leach (Sequin) will be attending the festival. (Q&A Saturday screening only.)

Picture Descriptions

  1. The title character, Sequin, a young boy with short red hair, stands in a room illuminated with blue light. He is, as his name suggests, wearing a short-sleeved sequin top.
  2. A close-up of Sequin as he gazes intensely at his mobile phone. To the left of the shot, we see what he can see – a black and white image of a male torso, and a dating profile that reads, “A. 29. Discreet. Masc. 7km away.” This is followed by a string of messages from “A” which read: “meet at the elevator doors? why did you run from me?hello? come here. i want you. i know you’re here.”
  3. Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen in the film ‘Ingrid Goes West’. Their characters are posing for a photograph at the side of a desert road, both doing peace signs.
  4. Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen in the film ‘Ingrid Goes West’. Their characters are posing for a photograph at the side of a desert road, both doing peace signs.
  5. Conor Leach as Sequin. He is sitting, wearing only a pair of black shorts, against a dark background. The contrast of light and dark are reminiscent of early baroque artists such as Caravaggio.
  6. Zendaya and Hunter Schafer in the HBO series Euphoria. They are both gazing up, in a party or nightclub setting. The palette is similar to that in the first picture, taken from ‘Sequin in a Blue Room’, with strong accents of blue and purple light.
  7. Sequin and another boy are in the toilets at their high school. Both are wearing their school uniforms, and Sequin has a bag slung over his shoulder. He is smiling at the other boy, who looks bashful.

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