B&B has a brilliant premise: a Christian bed and breakfast refuses services to a gay couple so they sue to get their double bed. Once they’ve won in court, they go for a night but the news coverage has attracted potentially dangerous homophobes that same weekend. B&B boldly skips through that exposition and thrusts the viewer right into the action by showing Marc (Tom Bateman; Snatched) and Fred (Sean Teale; We Are the Freaks) ring the bell at the front desk of the eponymous bed and breakfast. There’s a newspaper in front of the bell with the headline “Homosexuals sue Christian for double bed” above Marc and Fred’s picture and a box labeled “Legal Donations.” These broad strokes skip us directly into the action. Within three minutes, Marc and the innkeeper, Josh (Paul McGann; Alien 3), are at each other’s throats. As Fred puts it, Marc is a sore winner. Quickly, Josh’s son Paul (Callum Woodhouse; Room 17) warns Fred that the news coverage of the case might have attracted Neo Nazis and other gay bashers. The only other guest is Alexie (James Tratas; Deadly Code), a massive Russian man wearing black boots, reminiscent of those worn by the aforementioned Neo Nazis.
The movie stages philosophical conversations about the nature of homosexuality around the story question of whether Alexie is gay or a gay basher. For a while it’s hard to say whether Alexie is dangerous or not. Marc and Fred argue about whether he was checking Marc out or sizing him up to beat him. Marc points out that the idea that all Russians hate gays is a stereotype. The movie goes on to draw some clever parallels between gay stereotypes and white supremacist stereotypes, and keeps the question of what Alexie is doing there a mystery.
Unfortunately, as a main plot, it lacks sufficient stakes to draw the viewer along. As more and more information about Alexie is revealed, none of it implies that he is dangerous beyond his size. While he is big and Tratas does exude a bit of menace, it’s not enough to really drive the story forward.
The conversations are important but dialectic. It’s a story model where characters debate the merit of a philosophy. The issue with this kind of story is that the writer’s point of view is well captured and the opposing point of view is easily toppled leading to an unsatisfying debate and characters who aren’t much more than megaphones for the writer’s beliefs. B&B doesn’t avoid that trap. And that’s partly because the dialectic conversations between the characters are meant to reinforce the writer’s core beliefs about what it means to be gay and to introduce straight viewers to that discourse.
The characters are at times insightful and McGann gives Josh as much life as can be given with the script, but in the end, the writing doesn’t develop any of the characters beyond their stance on homosexuality. See this exchange when Marc and Josh are having a drink together. Josh says, “You seem like a decent person Marc, aside from this one thing.” Marc replies, “It’s not one thing. It’s who I am.” And while Marc may be right, it’s a universal, not personal, statement. The characters always speak in a way that’s removed from their individual experiences, because as exhibited in the script, they don’t have personal experiences. Marc and Fred never mention jobs, hobbies, preferences, or tastes beyond their orientation. Josh and Paul are never developed beyond the Christian, homophobic innkeeper and his gay son.
The biggest problem with the characterization though is how unrelatable the characters are. I want to be behind Marc and I want to revel in the revenge he’s taking on Josh for discriminating against him. I couldn’t though because Josh is infrequently a bad guy without provocation on screen. By skipping over the initial refusal, B&B sanitizes Josh. On an intellectual level, it’s clear that he did a terrible, hateful thing, but because it’s not on camera and Marc’s small abuses of Josh are, it becomes nearly impossible to like Marc. Fred is likable and at times very funny, and that makes Marc even harder to like because Fred doesn’t want to be there. He expresses it clearly again and again but Marc disrespects his partner’s wishes. And yet Marc is the main character by virtue of having the most screen time and top billing.
It’s not uncommon for horror movies to have unlikable, two-dimensional characters. What separates B&B from most horror movies is the use of dialectic. By introducing philosophical debate to the genre, it breaks the fable-like world that most horror movies function in. The characters in many other horror films aren’t well developed either, but they also don’t ask viewers to engage with real world issues. Asking the audience to consider—which is crucial to this film’s work and important for our world—necessitates that the characters be three-dimensional because they aren’t stock characters meant to fall onto a knife.
The premise is brilliant. The final product is weighed down by lack of tension and poorly developed, unlikable characters. I had high hopes for this film after it won “Best LGBT Film” at the London Film Festival and while the horror elements weren’t spectacular, the movie did raise the questions it wanted to raise, and in that way it succeeds.
Wicked Rating: 5/10
Director: Joe Ahearne
Writers: Joe Ahearne
Stars: Tom Bateman (Creditors, Snatched), Paul McGann (Alien 3, Withnail and I), Sean Teale (Skins, We Are the Freaks), Callum Woodhouse (The Durrells in Corfu, Room 17), and James Tratas (Deadly Code, Nochnye strazhi).
Studio/ Production Co: Hummingbird Films
Release date: 28 April 2017
Length: 87 min
This review is indebted to Noah Grabeel and John Card for their help placing the film within the gay cinema genre.