Femme (2023)

 Sam H. Freeman, Ng Choon Ping

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Certificate: 18

Starring: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, George MacKay, John McCrea, Nima Taleghani, Aaron Heffernan, Antonia Clarke

Expanding on their 2021 short of the same name, writer/director duo Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping open on drag artist Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) eagerly getting ready to perform on-stage. Stepping out afterwards to get cigarettes, the night takes a turn for the worse when Jules is the victim of a brutal homophobic attack. The assault leaves the drag artist to retreat indoors, having withdrawn from the drag race and left to feel powerless. When he visits a gay sauna, Jules spots his attacker and feels compelled to approach him. As he begins dating the deeply closeted Preston (George MacKay), a revenge plan begins formulating in Jules' mind.

What unfolds is an engrossing thriller about identity, looking at how the dual leads present themselves through performances while grappling with their true selves. Underneath Preston’s bravado, MacKay captures a self-loathing lurking within this character trapped in a friendship group driven by alcohol and toxic masculinity. This internalized homophobia results in his temper bursting forth in frightening ways, while a tenderness rises as his fa├žade crumbles away around Jules, and he finds somebody that he can be himself around. While viewers are allowed to understand the character, he is not let off the hook for his violent actions.

The impact is shown on Stewart-Jarrett’s exceptional performance, conveying Jules’ determination to take back his life and rediscover the powerful feeling of his drag persona, in an effective subversion on the typical trauma narrative. While playing Street Fighter allows Jules to repay the feeling of violent humiliation through virtual means, the knowledge that someone’s sins have left them within a prison of their own making is even sweeter.

Throughout the gorgeously shot sequences is an utterly tense tale where the pair contend for control in their relationship, with the psychological warfare exploding into a heart-pounding third act. What Freeman and Ping have crafted for their feature debut is a heartfelt white-knuckle ride which refuses to let up as it commands the viewers attention.

Femme is available in cinemas now