Gay L.A.? According to this movie, it’s murder
The following contains minor spoilers from Hulu’s “Into the Dark”: “Midnight Kiss.”
“Midnight Kiss,” the latest, New Year’s Eve-set installment of Blumhouse’s horror anthology “Into the Dark,” is a B-grade slasher in the tradition of drive-in theaters and late-night TV: Friends hole up in a remote house for the weekend and find themselves being picked off, one by one, by a masked marauder.
The friends are a quartet of L.A. gays and their closest straight gal pal. Their cabin in the woods is a rambling, ultra-modern manse in Palm Springs. And “Scream’s” white mask has been replaced with a sly reference to the popular kink known as “pup play.”
In other words, “Midnight Kiss,” which arrives Friday on Hulu, gleefully remixes familiar genre tropes with distinctly gay subject matter, delving into the use of hookup apps and the pitfalls of open relationships while coining the hilariously ribald phrase “psychopath bottom.” It stars Augustus Prew (“The Morning Show”) as Cameron, an aspiring artist who reluctantly agrees to join the crew’s annual getaway, and Scott Evans (“Grace and Frankie”) as his uptight ex, Joel. Joined by Hannah (Ayden Mayeri), Zachary (Chester Lockhart) and Joel’s new fiancé, Logan (Lukas Gage), the friends’ relationships fray as their plans for a wild night out descend into terror.
The Times gathered Prew, Evans, writer Erlingur Thoroddsen and director Carter Smith over bloody marys and vodka sodas at Rocco’s West Hollywood outpost to discuss “Midnight Kiss,” the politics of slasher movies and the challenges still facing gay men in pop culture.
This conversation has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
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In director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s first feature, “Culture Shock,” co-written with James Benson and Efrén Hernández, Marisol (Martha Higareda) is pregnant and alone, and dreams of a better life for herself and her unborn child in the “land of opportunity,” America.
We’ll start with a fun one. Describe the most memorable experience you’ve had meeting someone on an app.
Carter Smith: Like Logan, I’m a serial monogamist, and I have not met someone on an app.
Augustus Prew: Neither have I.
Do you have principled objections to the idea?
Smith: No, not at all. I’m the first one on my friends’ phones like, “Show me, show me, show me!”
Prew: I’m a bit of a technophobe. I don’t have any principled objections to the apps, I’ve just always found that I can’t read someone’s energy from an app. I like to be a bit more tapped into someone. I’ve always found I’m quite the social person, anyway, so I’ve never had an issue meeting people. There’s something very forced about it, to me. It feels like everybody’s putting their best foot forward in this inauthentic way. … I’ve never needed an app for fun, sexy things to happen. However, a very quick way to get fun, sexy things to happen is to use an app. There’s no judgment either way. It’s whatever floats your boat.
Erlingur Thoroddsen: I like to use them if I’m traveling. Sometimes, meeting people through them, you get a sense of a new place in a different way. But I think it’s totally correct — I do think people put on a facade on the app. They’re trying to present themselves as something that they want to be. I’ve made good friends that I’ve met through these apps. I find that once you break through that facade … you can meet very interesting people and have relationships that can last. Not as in couple relationships. Friendship relationships.
Scott Evans: I’ve been single, and I’ve used Tinder and Grindr. I have nothing against it. I mainly would use Tinder for people I would know — I would swipe instead of going up to them in person and asking for their number. It’s also a fun game to see who’s around and who’s single and what they’re saying about themselves.
Prew: My husband and I only use apps when we go abroad, because it’s a very quick way to find a gay community. … When we went to Mexico, that’s how we hooked up with guys. We met at bars and sussed out whether they were lying or if they were a bit dodgy. But there are no juicy stories for you, I’m afraid. Unless threesomes are juicy enough for you.
Evans: I one time hooked up with somebody off an app who gave me an autographed copy of a book he wrote.
Did he wait until after the hook-up was over or was this part of the introduction?
Evans: It was kind of mid-hookup when he stopped and said, “By the way, I have to tell you I know who you are.”
Prew: Do we know who he is?
Evans: Well, sure, but I’m never going to tell you.
I’m willing to go off the record if you want to spill.
Prew: You just want to know now, don’t you?
Evans: I’m not proud of it, either, so it has nothing to do with keeping his identity secret.
Prew: I think I’m in the minority. Most of my friends do use the apps. A lot of them make professional relationships on apps and make lifelong friendships on apps. I didn’t get internet at my house until I was 18, so my brain just didn’t develop that way at all.
My feeling is always that it would have been really bad news if I had had apps available to me in high school and college.
Evans: 100%. Absolutely. I was bad news [even] without the apps!
In the movie, Cameron is at the club looking at the app, and Joel says, ‘Would you look around? The men on the app are in this bar.’ Do you think it has affected people’s ability to meet in person?
Evans: Yeah. Why do you need to stress yourself out about getting rejected face to face when you can put your best foot forward?
Prew: In general, the apps have been a good thing. But I do think, in the gay community specifically — and this is now something a little controversial, but it’s also what drew me to the script in the first place — there’s a problem with self-loathing and with never feeling enough despite working incredibly hard and being more successful than most demographics. … It’s the classic “velvet rage” argument, and I think the apps exacerbate that. You’re encouraged to put the best version of yourself [forward], and in doing that, it becomes this elaborate performance, and you can’t just sit down and have this conversation that we’re having now.
Evans: There’s also a ton of homophobia on the apps. It’s a crazy toxic place to be for certain people.
Thoroddsen: It’s eliminating that sense of, “I’m afraid to go up to that person,” but it’s also, “I’m maybe not presenting something entirely honest to that person.”
Prew: Right. Or presenting something that you think they want to see, rather than something that you are.
Evans: Of course, you want to put your best foot forward. You want to have sex! And sometimes it can just be about sex. Guys don’t always need to “make a connection” or whatever. I get on the app, I need to [have sex], and that’s it. And there’s a lot of judgment behind that in the gay community.
Do you think the movie is an accurate representation of how much gay guys sleep around within their friend groups?
Thoroddsen: I thought this was such a specifically Icelandic thing, the incestuous nature of gay relationships. Because in Iceland, it’s a very small community compared to America. I thought, “We just have to deal with the fact that my ex-boyfriend is now dating my best friend.” But after living in New York and here, I can see that it’s not just Iceland. It’s very common. And I think it has something to do with the group of people we connect with — our chosen family. Those are very strong ties, and we tend to stick to the same groups for a long time, and I think gay guys are OK-ish with the musical chairs. Definitely more OK with it than straight people are.
Prew: From my personal experience, yes, everyone [sleeps with] everyone. … I think queer people have already had to re-imagine relationships and monogamy and trust. They’ve had to rewrite the rules anyway. I don’t think that love and monogamy go together well at all, to be honest. I think they’re anathema to each other. It’s bizarre to me that they’re so intertwined, and I’m somebody who’s married.
Evans: When it comes to dating, instead of the hooking up side of it — not everybody’s dateable. … It’s a smaller world than people think. It’s also a bigger world than people think, but there’s a lot of crossover. A lot of my best friendships started with fooling around, or at some point we fooled around. And it’s never a thing like, “This is going to hurt the friendship.” It’s like, “That was fun last night. We’re both single, we did it, we’re still best friends.” And I don’t think everybody can be OK with that.
Prew: My parents, they’re classic baby boomers. Born straight after the war. They met when my mum was 16. They moved in together when they were 17. They’re now in their 70s and have always been married. That is dead.
Evans: That is stressful.
Being able to make a gay slasher movie for one of the major streaming services is a sort of tectonic shift in its own right.
Evans: I hate that it seems groundbreaking. That really sucks. [But] it’s kinda cool.
Smith: Horror, traditionally, gay people have had to read between the lines. It’s spoken to queer people before, but it’s rarely represented them in a way that they felt like they could see themselves. It’s very rare that you see a gay character in a horror film that is not there to be the sidekick or the best friend or the comic relief.
In slasher films, the order people are killed is considered political: the trope of ‘the final girl,’ or people of color being killed first. Can you talk about the kill order here? On the one hand, starting with the West Hollywood hunk seems like a twist on expectations. But I can also imagine criticism of having the two men of color, including the queerest character, not make it to the end — that this movie is too white.
Evans: Everybody’s gonna criticize. Of course they are. But come on! Look at the bigger picture! It’s a cast full of gay men playing gay parts. Also, seeing those abs at the beginning. … It’s what hooks the gays.
Smith: In the script stage, and in pre-production — before we cast anything — there wasn’t that much talk or thought about what these people looked like. That wasn’t how Zachary was written at all. Zachary was a studly male model in the script. And then Chester [Lockhart] came in read for it, and I was like, “Oh, my God.”
Evans: And it was needed. We needed Chester in this.
Thoroddsen: I don’t think there was any conscious commentary in who gets killed when. The chips fall where they fall.
I ask because these questions are freighted. And you all are in the position of, because there are so few explicitly queer horror movies, every queer person who watches it is going to bring all of their expectations to it.
Smith: This doesn’t represent every queer person.
Prew: You can’t make something representative of everybody.
Smith: We spend so long searching for ourselves in entertainment, but more than anything, this is a very specific story about a very specific group of people, and hopefully all types of viewers can find a bit of themselves in these characters.
Evans: Let’s hope there’s a future where we do worry about these things. This is the start. Getting a horror movie or a horror show made with an entirely gay cast, centered around a gay plot — we’re not “making this” gay. This just is gay. This is how we live. This is our life. Aside from the murder.
Thoroddsen: You can read into the political side of it, like we’re trying to say something. I think it’s more trying to be accurate to what a group of people like this would be talking about. What would be on their mind. Their relationship dynamics.
Evans: No one’s going to see us kiss on screen and say, “How brave!” and give Oscar noms like they did with “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s kind of nice to see it normalized.
Since we’re on the subject, what are you all watching or have watched that you think gets the specifics of contemporary gay life right?
Evans: “Special”? [directed at Prew, who appears in the series]
Prew: Yeah, “Special’s” good for that.
Evans: “Drag Race”! I find the conversations on “Drag Race” very authentic, and I cry pretty much every episode.
Thoroddsen: I’m a big fan of what Andrew Haigh has done, like “Looking.” That also was a show that had criticisms of, “This doesn’t represent all the gays,” but I don’t feel like it needed to.
Smith: It doesn’t need to.
Thoroddsen: And “Weekend” is a film I love.
Evans: “Weekend,” talk about tears. The acting in that movie is so spectacular. It blew my mind.
Prew: In queer narratives, up until now, it’s always been about, “Oh, isn’t it sad how depressed they are?” “Isn’t it sad that this genius [referring to Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’] was castrated by the government?” It’s always, “Oh, gay people have been ... over for millennia, isn’t it sad?” And now we’re moving to a point where — and I don’t know that anyone’s nailed it yet — we’re able to have these conversations without it having to be tainted by doom and gloom. Russell T Davies, I think, is very good at writing queer parts where the guy is just in it and happens to be gay. “Years and Years” is a good example. “Looking” was also good, I suppose. “Queer as Folk,” but that was so shaped by the fact that it was in [2000-05]. It was amazing for the time, but now it feels so dated when you watch it. It’s wild. I don’t know that it’s been done yet.
Evans: When you said it, I thought, “I’m sure there are things!” Maybe I watch too much true crime, but I can’t think of any.
“Pose,” to me, is a show that gets at queerness as being a communal phenomenon and not just a sexuality or a gender. We live our lives together. We have our own spaces, like gay bars.
Evans: Walking down these streets feels different from anywhere else. You have that sense of community.
Prew: Isn’t the reason that we have this very intricate culture and this communal aspect because for a long time we weren’t allowed to be part of mainstream culture? The fact that we couldn’t name any show that we all think, “Yeah, that’s a great example” is because there aren’t any, because we’re not allowed in mainstream culture yet. Queer culture was born out of the fact that no one was going to do it for us, so we had to do it ourselves.
In that vein, I’d be curious for each of you to talk about how frequently you’ve had the opportunity to direct, write or play gay characters. Is this still a one-off, a lucky shot?
Prew: I’m getting more material, definitely.
Evans: I think we’re getting more stuff, but it’s also becoming a thing where I think they’re really proud of themselves that they’re letting gay people play the gay parts, and it’s like we should be thankful for it.
Evans: It’s getting so much to that point that I’m not even getting called in for straight roles anymore. Which is fine if you write as many gay roles as straight roles. You see the same people at every audition. It’s exciting, it’s what we always wanted, but it all of a sudden feels —
Prew: It’s a lot of stereotypes about what straight people think gay people are.
Prew: We’re still stuck in the “gay assistant” place. There are more different types of gay assistants, but I think, ultimately — as someone who’s currently playing a gay assistant in a very popular show on TV [“The Morning Show”] — I don’t know that we have really gotten past that yet.
Evans: Character breakdowns, for one, it’s just the funniest things. It’s always, “slightly effeminate” or “super effeminate.”
Prew: It’s like, “What shade of effeminate?”
Evans: People are like, “You would never know that this guy’s gay!” “You think he’s gay, but he only seems it, but he is.”
Thoroddsen: You can tell that straight people are writing those characters.
Smith: Maybe it’s because I’m happy in the genre space, but I don’t ever read a script that has a great character in it unless it’s one that [Erlingur] wrote or that I’ve created myself. They just don’t exist.
Thoroddsen: I feel like the burden is on ourselves. We have to come up with these characters and these ideas. I will say, though, Blumhouse and Hulu, they specifically wanted a gay slasher movie. I always wanted to write a gay slasher movie, but they asked for one, and that’s how the project started. … You hear conflicting things. Some people are very open to the idea of having queer protagonists and narratives, perhaps especially within genre films, but then you hear, “That’s not gonna sell overseas. That’s not gonna be good for theatrical release because of the Midwest.” I feel like nobody really knows because it hasn’t really been done before.
That’s why I’m so excited to get the phrase “psychopath bottom” into The Times.
Prew: That should just be our tag line.
Evans: Carter actually spoke to me in ADR [re-recording audio in post-production] and he was like, “We really want ‘bottom’ to pop.” If there has been a gayer sentence in ADR, prove it to me.
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