Though the premise riffs on several recent court cases/tabloid stories and the identity politics angle is relatively topical, this twist-laden suspense thriller from writer-director Joe Ahearne – known for middling genre TV like Ultraviolet, Strange and Apparitions, and some Doctor Who episodes – has the sort of small scale, limited setting, artfully concealed reversals and strung-out suspense situations which would once have slotted perfectly into Brian Clemens’ ITV Thriller slot or done for a Jimmy Sangster’s twisty psycho-mystery Hammer Films script. It has some depth, but only to justify how far the plot takes the characters – and a solid, all-male cast wisely underplay shrieking confrontations even when the blood starts spattering.
A year after taking a Christian B&B owner to court for refusing to put them in a room with a double bed, an urban gay couple return to demand their court-appointed rights – only to find the landlord Josh (Paul McGann) has accepted the verdict and put twin beds in all the rooms, thus offering genuinely equal service. The set-up includes devices which are either clunky or economical – a newspaper with a bluntly explanatory headline is left lying around for nobody’s benefit but the audience’s, folks keep accessing image files on other folks’ devices for handy revelations or misdirections. The characterisations are all rooted in the necessities of the plot – Josh is wearily polite but embittered (and has lost a lot of money on the case), while Marc (Tom Bateman) is all for rubbing his victory in the man’s face and his husband Fred (Sean Teale) would rather forget the whole thing and get on with their lives, and Josh’s teenage son Paul (Callum Woodhouse) is on the point of coming out and hates his Dad more than the outsiders do. In parallel with the real-life cases, Josh is supposed to be a conservative Christian – but that mostly means he has crosses hung in the rooms and mutters about Marc and Fred not really being married. The psychodrama does get round to an issue of faith in its final twist, but mostly this is about seething resentment and family ties.
The claustrophobic (but cosy) business segues from Play for Today to Menace when another character – a Russian-speaking tattooed hulk (James Trat) – shows up, and Marc and Fred can’t decide whether he’s a gay-basher enlisted by Josh to give the queers a kicking or a rough trade enthusiast cruising Paul. Ominously, and inevitably in modern thrillers, the phone signals are jammed and cars are put out of use. When the Russian takes Paul to the local pickup park, Marc and Fred still aren’t sure whether the lad is about to have his first sexual experience or likely to get badly beaten/killed … though, of course, it turns out to be way more complicated than that. It’s weighted towards the practical, just-wants-to-get-along Fred’s point of view and Teale manages to squirm with embarrassment and concern throughout … and the aggressive, ungracious-in-victory Marc is initially much more unlikeable than the dour, keeping-a-lid-on-it Josh. I suspect there will be complaints about the film from aggrieved Christians and gay rights activists that their positions are caricatured, but really the meat of the story comes when the Russian’s real purpose – which involves specialised night-vision kit, a dropcloth and the phone-jammer gadget – becomes apparent, and we’re in the world of intimate betrayals, overly complicated crime schemes, blundering self-incrimation (Fred, the most innocent character, keeps making himself look incredibly guilty) and characters being forced to demonstrate how far they’ll go to protect loved ones.
It has repeated night-vision cottaging footage and plenty of excuses to have the buff characters go shirtless, but in the end this is a gay slant on the isolated mystery/suspense situation rather than a serious engagement with contemporary issues (and, frankly, all the better for it). It might make a nice double bill with the more dungeon-friendly Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror.