Opening with a quote from Homer claiming all men to be "wretched things", from the onset, the latest from writer/director Gage Oxley states its message very clearly. What follows are three short vignettes each focusing on different male leads exploring how they are exploited and affected by the sex industry and their own sexualities. Each story is expertly directed by Oxley managing to explore darker elements of the #LGBTQ community, nastier sides of masculinity and issues concerning mental health all within the film's 80 minute running time.
Wretched Things follows the same structure as #RichardLinklater's Slacker: a film with multiple small scenes each connected by a baton-pass moment; characters pass someone on the street and the camera stops following them to stay with the newcomer, to give one example. While Wretched Things has fewer stories the structure has the same effect; unrelated characters are connected through their stories, elevating the film form a series of shorts to a bigger narrative, one that transcends the individual lives of the characters within it.
This is emphasised by repeating motifs, especially regarding the body. The first two stories follow a model, Ben, (Warren Godman) and a webcam performer, Olly, (Tommy Vilés) respectively. Ben's body is fit and muscular, but he's uncomfortable at being asked to bear it on camera, while Olly's is less so he does seem to enjoy his job but remains terrified of it becoming publicly known. Both characters are contrasting but we feel their shame equally when they're forced to strip by a bullying photographer or outed on social media; Oxley tightens the shots around their faces creating a sense of claustrophobia and suffocation. Both men began their stories with some confidence and in a heartbeat this is ripped away, leaving them alone in a world that suddenly feels more dangerous.
Which sets us up well for the film's final and longest story, following the deeply conflicted and unsettling Louis (Adam Ayadi), a cruel, drug taking homophobe who gets his kicks and earns his money through the sexual domination of other men. Louis's dialogue is in complete contrast to his actions and we begin to see him as the third stage of development begun by Ben and Olly; he is someone who has lived through shame and bullying and has emerged deeply damaged and a bully himself. His mental state is certainly at its rockiest and the film reflects that; scenes with Louis are bathed in acidic colours, while slightly distorted, electronic covers of pop songs cut in and cut out.
The film's triumph is in showing the complexity of each of its leads (aided by the three stand-out performances), the script never giving us a clear definition on any of them. In one powerful moment, Louis yells about the suffocating nature of being forced into one label or another because, of course, as the film has shown he, and the others, are both and neither. The film will give us no answers (perhaps because in this case there are none to give) but through its connections and character development it does create sympathy as male emotions are crushed under exploitative bodily desires and it challenges the audience on how we see men like this and may even shame us for how quickly we try to define them.
It does fall into the pitfalls of many anthology films, namely the stories changing as soon as you've settled into them but by the time the film has finished and we can take in the work as a whole we know that Gage Oxley is a talent to watch.
Watch the official movie trailer below.