After years in hiding and struggling to control his demons, an eccentric drifter returns home and discovers that his childhood abuser, the center of his pain, is still alive. Armed with this knowledge, the drifter plots his revenge, all the while navigating the perilous land of masculine fragility in modern-day America.
June 1st, 2018
Nor is it something which takes you into the mysteries and endless shivers of your favorite go-to haunted house flick.
This film tackles perhaps the most frightening thing ever to be discussed/displayed on film – or in any other story-telling venue.
Discreet is about the horrific damage which one human being can willingly inflict on another fellow human being.
Alex (Jonny Mars – who is one of the producers here) is a drifter. He lives out of his van, having anonymous sexual encounters in porn shops and hotels, with other men. He’s returned to his Texas hometown on his way to Oregon, where he hopes to connect with an online guru named Mandy (Atsuko Okatsuka). He visits his mother and finds out that someone from his long past is alive (his mother told Alex that this man named John – was dead). Having John (Bob Swaffar) back in his life, forces him to confront what happened to him as a child, and to face head-on how these childhood events have shaped him into the man he is today.
I certainly wouldn’t label Discreet as a horror film, but a drama, a psychological thriller and something akin to a “rape-revenge” film. It’s also got a very indie/art-house sensibility in the way it presents its characters and in the way the film is shot.
Discreet was filmed in the Austin, Texas area, and oddly enough – despite this being mostly a drama – provided for me, a weird sense memory of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Was it the locale? Perhaps. But more than anything, the sparse (but effective) score from Mark De Gli Antoni offered the same feeling of that Tobe Hooper classic – something dry and dangerous and unsettling. And these two films couldn’t be further from one another as far as content. I found this comparison (in my own head, of course) to be quite intriguing.
More than anything, Discreet is a beautiful character study. There is so much going on in Alex’s life during the film – and the audience will never quite get it – unless of course, you’ve been in a similar situation as the character. His actions are odd, upsetting – but justified based on what we believe (it’s never said out loud) happened in Alex’s past. This character is a dream role for any actor.
And Mars hits all of the levels which are required by Alex. It’s a stunningly good (and often times, reserved) performance. There’s actually very little dialogue – allowing Mars to simply inhabit the character. I’ve often spoken of wonderful silent moments in performances (Nicole Kidman’s “symphony” scene in the underrated Birth comes to mind), and Mars has several of these. We can see Alex’s mind going a mile a minute – notably in the many sequences of Alex silently driving down the road in his beat-up van. So many times, Mars’ eyes are near to bursting with tears, and yet we don’t necessarily know exactly what Alex is supposed to be thinking. While the film and Alex’s history are somewhat enigmatic, so too is Mars’ performance. He provides Alex with moments of confusion, anger, lust, greed, deep sadness – but never ever do we see happiness.
However, on that note – let me defy what I’ve just said. There is a single shot very late in the film – which nearly broke my heart. It says absolutely everything you need to know about Alex and how deeply damaged he really is. An amazing shot – and weirdly – it is the only time we really see Alex in a contented state – is that the happiness I don’t think I ever saw?
This image is incredibly powerful and captures the main character’s mind-set more than anything else in the film. This is the shot which will stick with me and which lifts an already great film into the levels of cinematic bliss.
Mars’ performance is an award-worthy journey into a flawed (but sympathetic) character with really nothing to lose and it deserves both praise and recognition. It’s a perfect match – a beautifully written character (from writer/director Travis Mathews) paired with a nuanced and heart-breaking lead performance. It doesn’t get any better than this.
I also appreciated that again – nothing is ever completely spelled out. I certainly don’t want to be spoon-fed, but this is a prime example of “less is more”. There’s the old adage that the viewer’s imagination will fill in the gaps. Nothing that the filmmaker shows will be as effective as what the viewer may see – given the chance to make up their own minds.
It’s very clear what happened, but we are provided very few details – and it’s better that way.
Technically, the film is well done. I appreciated the editing, the extended shots – offering silent glimpses into characters’ state of mind. And the camerawork (most notably an overhead shot of a rushing stream) was solid.
What’s most effective about the film is the realization that this is barely a fiction. Sure, these characters aren’t based on real people (so far as I know), but these events – sadly – are not at all foreign to the stories we see every day on local/national news broadcasts. And this familiarity with heinous acts (human beings damaging other human beings) is what most disturbs about Discreet. The film will leave you feeling pained, emotionally drained and deeply sympathetic to the main character’s journey.
With strong performances, a troubling story and horrors lifted straight out of news headlines – Discreet isn’t really a horror film. At least not in the way we’d generally expect. There is no gore. There are no psycho killers and there are no ghosts.
What Discreet does right – is to illustrate the darkness we carry as human beings. And what our inner darkness can do to truly damage our fellow travelers in this life. It’s raw. It’s frightening.
And you know what? It is horror – in every sense of the word.
Discreet is scheduled for a limited theatrical release, as well as VOD on June 1st, 2018.