Following Ti West's X (2022), a horror film involving the porn industry, this film could be seen as capitalizing off what is now a cult classic. However, this film is more capitalizing off writer-director Carter Smith's intriguing and award-winning short Bugcrush (2006). His 2006 work put Smith on the map in terms of queer filmmakers to watch, as well as queer filmmakers in the horror genre. Smith's short was so successful that it was made apart of two separate DVD compilations. One was Boys Life 6 (2007) from Strand Releasing. The other was Boys on Film 3: American Boy (2009) from Peccadillo Pictures.

Bugcrush was about a teenage boy named Ben who goes on a road trip with another teenage boy for whom he has romantic or sexual feelings, eventually arriving at a remote, rural house. Once there, Ben is introduced to an insect that is used as a recreational drug but also as a kind of Rohypnol or "roofie." He experiences the dangers of that insect. Smith's latest feature here could be considered a kind of sequel to that 2006 short, as a lot of the basic elements are exactly the same.


Cooper Koch (They/Them and A New York Christmas Wedding) stars as Ben, a young gay man who looks as if he's college age, early to mid 20's, very tall and attractive with cute curly hair. It's not clear where he lives but it's probably New England, possibly near the Canadian border. Yet, he's planning to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in pornography. Before he leaves, he goes with his heterosexual friend who has no judgments at all on a road trip, which is later revealed to be a drug run.

Smith's short film was more about youthful exploration, discovering one's attractions and desires, as well as drug addiction and even sexual violence. Smith amplifies things here with the perils of drug trafficking and the lengths one will go for friendship. Unfortunately, Smith doesn't give us much in terms of establishing the friendship between Ben and his heterosexual companion, Dom, played by Jose Colon in his screen debut. The opening scene is meant to lay out what their dynamic is, but, as the film progressed, it never dug deeper into how they came to be friends or why they were friends at all, beyond that of a cliché case of a gay guy having unrequited lust for a straight guy.


At the same time, Smith never really sells us on the premise. It's not like Sean Baker's Red Rocket (2021) that really convinced us of a desperate porn star in need of cash and shelter. It's also not like Joshua Marston's Maria Full of Grace (2004) that convinced us of a desperate sweatshop girl pulled into the Colombian drug trade. I dare say that this isn't even Clint Eastwood's The Mule (2018) that convinced us of a desperate veteran and farmer roped into the Mexican cartel. Here, neither Ben nor Dom feel desperate enough to be involved in this illegal drug plot, but only because Smith doesn't provide enough background.

Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge) co-stars as Rich, the man who is the head of this drug trade involving insects that he's smuggling across the border. It's not clear, but it's assumed to be the Canadian border. He has a home deep in the woods, which is an old-style cabin with an outhouse. He's ostensibly a creepy pervert who seems to enjoy sexually harassing younger guys like Ben and Dom. The film is a bit campy before Rich arrives, but Rich's presence increases the campiness by a factor of a thousand.


For those who know Patton's real-life story, which gets explored in the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2020), this film is in some ways a commentary on that. There's a nod to Patton's actual history and experiences in Hollywood. Given that the character of Ben is going into pornography, one assumes that the film will make some connection between Rich's experiences and the experiences Ben is yet to have, but no. Instead of being a cautionary tale, Rich's experiences in Hollywood are simply a reference that is made and then dropped. As such, the resolution between Ben and Rich isn't as impactful as it could have been. It also doesn't make sense what Ben does to Rich, given that Rich doesn't feel like a threat any more.

The film becomes rife with gay innuendo and gay double entendre, which is comical. It's clear that Smith isn't going for the same tone as Bugcrush. This film is sillier. It's not as thrilling or even as disturbing as Bugcrush. His 2006 short felt more dangerous, mainly because the danger was from people who felt more dangerous and not the cartoon that is Patton's character. Here, Smith switches and tries to make the danger more from the insects, but the way Smith photographs things, that danger never truly feels realized.


It's not as if he needed to do a David Cronenberg-style, body horror. The title, which implies ingesting drug pellets, or insect sacs, lends itself to some kind of body horror. Yet, Smith makes the insects a MacGuffin that itself never really hits. The insects are supposed to be used as a recreational drug that paralyzes and arouses, a numbing aphrodisiac of which Bugcrush made better and effective use. Here, the insects aren't really a thing at all.

Jena Malone who was in Smith's The Ruins (2008) also co-stars here. Next to Patton, her role is probably the most fun. She gets to quip and pistol whip, but her character feels more perfunctory than anything else. It should also be noted that the film is 4:3 aspect ratio. I'm not sure why, except maybe Smith is going for a more vintage look and feel.


Rated R for violence, language, drug content, and full-frontal male nudity.

Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.

Available on VOD.

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