This low-budget British thriller uses a current topic as a springboard for some pretty nasty twists and turns. Thankfully, writer-director Joe Ahearne infuses the film with a blackly comical vibe that makes it entertaining, even when the plot becomes a bit contrived. But the characters are superbly played and the underlying themes make it provocative.
It’s been a year since Christian guesthouse owner Josh (Paul McGann) lost a lawsuit filed by gay couple Marc and Fred (Tom Bateman and Sean Teale) for refusing to let them sleep in a double bed. And on the anniversary, the couple is back to gloat. Except that now Josh only offers twin beds for everyone. Marc and Fred are also surprised to meet Josh’s 16-year-old son Paul (Callum Woodhouse), who is terrified of coming out to his strict dad. As tension rises, the muscly Russian Alexei (James Tratas) arrives, and Paul is instantly smitten. But Alexei is up to something nefarious.
The story gets increasingly unnerving from here, developing some proper suspense even if the script kind of fumbles the mystery, leaving some events feeling rather corny. But the characters are strong enough to hold the interest, especially the dynamic between the bigoted Josh and this gay couple, which shifts as events unfold. So adding a vulnerable teen and a creepy stranger to the mix spices things up in enjoyable ways.
Ahearne’s writing and directing are sharp enough to make the most of this, adding fun details to build both intrigue and some lively flirty attraction. And it’s also great that the characters are detailed enough to remain likeable even when they do some horrific things. Each one is provoking the others, pushing them to the brink as they challenge beliefs, feelings and prejudices.
Bateman (who also has a lead role in Murder on the Orient Express) is especially good as the arrogant queen who stirs trouble even though he knows better. Opposite him, Teale makes Marc a too-nice guy who always seems to be in the wrong place. Thankfully, McGann avoids making Josh into the usual sneering villain, finding unusual textures along the way.
In the end, the thriller plot kind of overwhelms the much more involving character drama, and the increasingly grim tone dilutes the wicked humour. But the final act is genuinely unnerving, with some proper horror that works because it has an emotional undercurrent.