Taking a page from the contraption-heavy “Saw” horror franchise but with a comedic spin and slurs aplenty, writer-director Anderson Cowan concocts a homophobe’s nightmare in low-budget cautionary tale “Groupers,” titled after a crude slang term that compares individuals who come out of the closet later in life to a sex-changing fish.
Archetypal jocks Brad (Peter Mayer-Klepchick) and Dylan (Cameron Duckett) wake up in an empty pool to the shocking realization that grad student Meg (Nicole Dambro) has abducted and bound them to avenge her gay brother Orin (Jesse Pudles) — a victim of their bigoted bullying — and as unwilling subjects in a provocative experiment to debunk the myth that homosexuality is a choice.
As he grapples with the deranged ordeal, Brad realizes he doesn’t really know the person right in front of him, evidencing the lack of intimacy in hyper-masculine male friendships. In turn, an exposed Dylan pleading for his bro’s reassurance in this time of need adds heartfelt vulnerability to their rapport. Instances with this level of introspection are limited in “Groupers,” but when they do come around Mayer-Klepchick and Duckett arise as the superior players among their overdramatic peers.
Cowan proves unable to tame the gimmicky theatricality in his cast’s performances and unsuccessfully attempts to fold two other groups of men, with their respective hierarchies, into the mix to broaden the film’s scope. Technically proficient, though wearing its limited resources as a badge of honor, this tonally clumsy first feature handles a sensitive LGBTQ+ matter with a heteronormative stance. It has an intriguingly radical and gung-ho core concept, but shallow implementation.
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 27, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills