Darkly introspective, this drama comes from the real-life personal experiences of actor-writer Matthew Fifer, who also produced, edited and co-directed the film with Kieran Mulcare. With an involving, loose tone, much of the interaction on-screen feels improvised, creating a sexy sense of physicality and intimacy between two men in their late 20s who are at different stages in the process of finding healing through self-acceptance.
The story is set in New York during the baking hot summer of 2013, as Ben (Fifer) is shagging rather a lot of men, determined to get over the fact that he almost married his girlfriend. Then he meets the seriously hot, sensitive Sam (Sheldon D Brown) and is taken aback to feel a deeper connection. As they develop a relationship, they begin to open up to each other.
Sam recounts stories about his troubled past as a victim of violently racist homophobia, but his religious background keeps him in the closet. He even introduces Ben to his father (Michael Potts) as his “friend”. But this might also be connected with his self-doubting suspicions that Ben might think of him as a token Black friend. Meanwhile, Ben is grappling with his own past, reluctant to face up to the abuse he suffered as a child.
Never sentimentalised, the film gently reminds us that we can only run from our demons for so long: we will have to deal with them eventually. Both of these guys are wounded, but together they are perhaps heading in the right direction. And their sexual and emotional connections are viscerally well-played. Both actors are charming and realistically lusty, bringing in some comedy to balance the darker drama. And colourful side characters (including Marvel’s Cobie Smulders as Ben’s lively therapist) add texture to the movie.
This is a sensitive story about two young men who are only just now coming to terms with their sexuality. And since both are beginning to address past traumas, they have plenty to deal with on their own before they can properly connect with each other. Refreshingly, Fifer refuses to present simplistic or tidy answers. He lets the characters lean on each other for support while wrestling with their own issues. It’s a strikingly fresh approach to this kind of story, and because it goes deep it’s the kind of movie that gets under the skin and sticks with you.
Cicada is out in cinemas on 21st January, and available on digital platforms.