Femme Review | An Edge-of-Your-Seat Queering of the Neo-Noir Crime Thriller

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Summary

  • Femme
    challenges genre norms and expectations in a haunting and radical manner.
  • George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett deliver excellent performances in this thrilling game of cat-and-mouse.
  • Directors Freeman and Ng showcase LGBTQ+ storytelling with incredible complexity and ambiguity, setting the stage for a bright future in cinema.



With Femme, Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping solidify themselves as a directing duo to watch. In centering gay characters in a neo-noir thriller about revenge, the filmmakers (who are making their feature directorial debut) go where no one has really gone before, effectively painting a bright and exciting future for LGBTQ+ cinema. But more than just queering a beloved genre, the film offers a sharp meditation on the mercurial nature of identity: whether gay or straight, cis or trans, consciously or subconsciously, publicly or privately, we are constantly performing who we are at any given moment.

Femme takes us to the nightlife of present-day East London. Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is a drag queen named Aphrodite, who, after a performance at a club one night, walks a few blocks to a convenience store for some cigarettes. There, and in full drag, he encounters Preston (George MacKay) and his belligerent friends. Preston isn’t shy about his homophobic remarks towards a visibly shaken Jules, who stands up for himself nonetheless. This, of course, only angers Preston further, so he chases Jules down a dark street and brutally attacks him.


A few months go by before a clearly traumatized Jules can leave his apartment again. He takes a chance at visiting a gay sauna — not necessarily to hook up with anyone, but more so to be somewhere discreet and low-key. To his surprise, he spots Preston, who doesn’t recognize him out of drag. Preston invites Jules to his home, and, from there, they embark on an affair that is equal parts tense, dangerous, and, above all, thrilling in every aspect of the word.


A Shape-Shifting Game of Cat and Mouse

Femme

Femme

3.5/5

Release Date
March 22, 2024

Director
Sam H. Freeman , Ng Choon Ping

Cast
George MacKay , Nathan Stewart-Jarrett , Aaron Heffernan , John McCrea , Antonia Clarke

Runtime
99 Minutes

Writers
Sam H. Freeman , Ng Choon Ping

Studio(s)
Agile Films , Anton , BBC Film

Distributor(s)
Utopia

Pros

  • A brilliant and unpredictable deconstruction of genre and binary expectations.
  • Femme queers crime thrillers and noir cinema in a haunting, radical way.
  • George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett are excellent.


On a formal and narrative level, Femme is a cat-and-mouse thriller that is constantly shape-shifting. At the start, the film makes it clear that Jules is on a quest for revenge, seemingly only agreeing to keep meeting Preston in order to secretly record one of their sexual encounters and out him. However, intentions start to blur as the two spend more and more time together and get to know each other. Here, the film toes the line between being, on one hand, a story of predator and prey and, on the other, of two young lovers with the chance to become something more.

In this regard, Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay are a perfect on-screen pair. Jules is a chameleonic character, becoming someone different depending on where he is and who he’s with (with Preston, for example, he’s more submissive, but around Preston’s friends, he’s boisterous, carries a certain swagger, and is “one of the guys”). Stewart-Jarrett succeeds in capturing every version of him that we see, infusing each with an underlying magnetism that it’s no wonder Preston can’t resist him. Similarly, MacKay is veritably frightening when Preston is at his most unpredictable and volatile. At the same time, he relishes the moments that show Preston’s softer and more vulnerable side.


Related: Sleeping Dogs Review: Russell Crowe and Karen Gillan Can’t Quite Save This Predictable Cop Thriller

Perfectly imperfect and living in shades of gray, these expertly crafted characters keep Femme‘s strings pulled taut. What’s more, Adam Janota Bzowski creates an eerie score that whispers in horror, emphasizing the high stakes Jules gambles at every time he meets up with Preston. But in a fantastic twist, James Rhodes’ cinematography feels really intimate, never shying away from how rough and raw Jules and Preston can get with each other.

Exciting New Voices in LGBTQ+ Cinema


What’s most remarkable about Femme is how it resists clear-cut answers, keeping us guessing from start to finish. Indeed, Freeman and Ng take great care in making sure Preston’s perspective is as impactful as Jules’. (One of the film’s defining moments — without giving too much away — sees Preston sitting on a staircase, smoking a cigarette; it’s not out of the ordinary for him, and yet it feels like the first moment we’re actually seeing the real him.) In this way, the film challenges us to eschew our steadfast inclination for — or, more correctly, reliance upon — a binary mindset: this isn’t a story about good versus evil, hero versus villain, or victim versus perpetrator.

Femme could have only been made with queer characters in the spotlight; it succeeds precisely because it is gay. The film’s inherent disruption of tradition speaks to the essence of queer existence, defying the rules placed before them and resisting easy categorization. Perhaps it’s too early to call Freeman and Ng LGBTQ+ trailblazers in the industry, but, with their debut feature, they’ve proven themselves to be unique voices in cinema. We should all look forward to how they will unsettle us next.


Femme is now playing in select theaters. You can watch the trailer below:

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