Travis Matthews/ USA / 2017 / 81 mins
Available on DVD/ VOD Mon 23 Jul 2018
Discreet falls in line thematically with writer-director Travis Matthews’ previous films I Want Your Love and Interior. Leather Bar, focusing on a gay protagonist and dealing with themes of sexuality and secrecy. However, untying the plot in Discreet is more of a complicated task.
The film opens, intriguingly, with closeups of sizzling bacon and the face of a woman giving esoteric life and meditation guidance. By the end of the film, a relatively short hour and twenty minutes later, the significance of neither of these openers become particularly more clear. What we can establish — eventually — is that the central character, Alex, lives a reclusive, introverted life and spends his time following others around, taking photographs and meeting men in various places for sexual encounters. It also becomes apparent that he suffered abuse as a child and is about to take extreme and disturbing actions to reconcile this as an adult. In terms of plot, this is really all the film filters down to. Other than this, there is little character development or satisfactory motivation given for most of the protagonist’s actions, which makes watching Discreet an unfulfilling experience.
It isn’t without merit, though. There is some filmic skill at play here. The movie is stylish in its choice of unusual closeups, long takes of depressing American towns, and lingering shots of supporting actors’ unsettling facial expressions. Even more interesting is the film’s soundscapes. Throughout, discordant, ambient electronica echoes through scenes creating a disturbing mood that permeates the film. The problem is that the narrative never then fulfils our sense of anticipation. The mysterious shots and creepy sounds set us up for climaxes that never really arrive. When Alex is in his truck, right-wing radio shows are heard spouting hate-speech in various forms, and although this seems like it is leading us somewhere, the idea of self-hatred (if that’s what the director is aiming for) isn’t developed a whole lot further. The final act of the film does make some aspects of Alex’s life clearer, but then comes to an abrupt close soon after.
The film’s short running time may be a draw for some viewers who are interested in Matthews’ work. However, Discreet feels more like an extended short film than a short feature film.