Filmmaker Dean Francis adapts the Stephen Davis play "Drown" to cinematic form, co-writing the screenplay with Davis and handling directorial duties.
Homoerotic sparks fly under Australia's summer sun as lifeguard and athletic club alpha male Len (Matt Levett) takes an instant liking to new guy Phil (Jack Matthews). One fateful night, the two head out for a celebratory trawl through Sydney, with the far more submissive Stewart -- nicknamed "Meat" by Len, due to his magnificent endowment -- in tow. The occasion: Phil has taken the prize for an athletic competition, dethroning Len.
Friendly rivalry and internalized homophobia ripen into toxic rage. As the night continues, drugs and alcohol enter the mix and Len's shaky grasp on his sense of masculinity begins to slip. Fantasy and memory overlap, and Len begins to re-enact traumatizing episodes of humiliation and abuse, targeting Phil for victimization in turn. It's a classic profile of homophobia: Len is terrified of admitting to his attraction to Phil, and his inner conflict twists his love into cruelty.
Meat and Phil have their share of back story, also. Meat has long been Len's less popular sidekick; Phil and his much more out boyfriend Tom (Sam Anderson) have faced painful episodes of anti-gay treatment.
But the story belongs to Len. The film is structured as artfully as a collage, cutting back and forth across different times in Len's life until the entire story becomes clear. Levett turns in a magnetic, mesmerizing performance that shakes you up. (For better or worse, the other cast members pale next to him). The film feels a little long; by the end, the palpable sense of dread director Francis effectively establishes in the opening minutes dissipates somewhat, and there are some not-so-believable exchanges between the characters.
But there are also disquieting moments that ring true despite their ugliness: Moments of masochistic submission and conflicting motivations that make this film a compelling portrait of the conflicts and complexities underlying homophobic violence.
Lyrical and brutal by turns, "Drown" is a tour -- and a tour de force -- through the damaged psyche of a man too afraid of his own nature to permit free reign to his impulses for tenderness and affection, and who ends up translating his yearning into hatred. The film poses a question that should be asked of all anti-gay thugs: Who's tougher? The guy who can throw a punch? Or the guy who can revel in a kiss?