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average rating is 4 out of 5


James Learoyd


Posted on:

Jun 11, 2024

Film Reviews
Directed by:
Daniel Daniel
Written by:
Alfie Flewitt
Matthew Pieterse, Jamie McClean, Oliver Bennett

Bleach (2023) is a finely tuned, supremely distressing new short film from director Daniel Daniel and writer Alfie Flewitt - each one bringing their own sense of chaotic darkness to the material. It's a film primarily concerned with compulsion and the roles it takes, for instance the title Bleach refers to the protagonist's constant cleaning, though just as insatiable is the character's dangerous sexual drive. Whilst it can be a horrific, oppressive watch at times, by the end it's quite transformative and leaves you on a much-needed note of catharsis. Some may think it needlessly disturbing; but with craft as specific and purposeful as this, you cannot deny its artistry.


The film follows Lloyd (Matthew Pieterse), a gay man struggling with intense psychological pain. We see him get with many guys, all of whom he wishes not to see again following their sexual encounters. His compulsive behaviours also include intensive exercise – to a point of self-harm – and this motif of using bleach not just on the apartment but on the body. The audience bears witness to his mental decline as he abuses both himself and others; his sexual life is as toxic as can be, but clearly comes from a fear of vulnerability.


Arguably, the most intelligent element of this piece is how these fears and addictions manifest: namely, the layer of removal the protagonist craves. His tendency to find more pleasure in pornography than people evokes something very real and very disturbing regarding our collective digital living. In seeking anonymous stimulation, he’s gratified by a layer of artifice and security as he tries to remain a stranger to those he really touches. Then, he punishes himself in deeply upsetting ways.


The visual construction of the film is expertly done. It has a handheld, grainy, digital-video look that’s perfect for representing the character’s intense distress as well as being emblematic of the fragmented, digital perspective through which he views sex and the world as a whole. It certainly evokes the work of the Safdies in their use of cinematography as a subjective tool for filmic chaos and physical compression - the synthy score in turn reminds one of Good Time (2017) or Uncut Gems (2019). This is implemented with consideration, however, and provides an apt aesthetic.


Things, as you can imagine, get progressively worse and worse, climaxing with the character’s lowest moment... and then a release. In recent memory, I cannot recall a sudden change in style and form in a short film working more effectively than this. We go from claustrophobic 4: 3 to the expansive 16: 9; stained greens to freeing blues. Suddenly everything is crisp and calming as we see Lloyd emersed in a great body of water – surrounded by shimmering light. A perfectly judged ending, to be sure, and one which leaves you on a blissful note – as dark as it may be.


The use of graphic sexual imagery is suitable and effectively unnerving; however, it will prove off-putting to the casual viewer. It’s deep, dark and messed up from the outset. The filmmakers were challenged with backing up the disturbing substance with craft which they more than accomplished with flair and stylistic complexity.

About the Film Critic
James Learoyd
James Learoyd
Short Film, LGBTQ+
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