Beach Rats (Hittman, 2017)

I’m not going to lie: I was a bit put-off by the ending of Beach Rats. I feel like Eliza Hittman was trying to write an explosive “moment” into her otherwise plotless feature, and ended up getting tied up with some strange inconsistencies. This includes a gay man trying to meet up with the lead Frankie (Harris Dickinson) a second time after the first encounter—which involves Frankie’s intimidating group of friends—scares him away. Why would he return so unwittingly if Frankie betrayed his trust the first time? It results in a very uncomfortable scenario where the question of blame seems to lie more on the side of the victim, and that doesn’t sit well with me. In real life, that man would have driven off and never looked back. But because Hittman needed something climactic to traumatise Frankie, she had to bend logic for a spell. The uncharacteristically trusting victim must return to meet his fate for the story to conclude.

However, despite the poor ending, I would say Beach Ratsmainly works. Its effect is to show us that Frankies exist in every corner, desperately performing their conception of a hegemonic masculinity based on their chosen peer group. Wanting to impress their family and friends, they flirt with pretty girls and pretend that they are as straight as arrows, all the while knowing within themselves that they are living a lie. They desire the touch of another man. And to satisfy that desire, they must sneak off in the dead of night for secret trysts with strangers. Men who are carefully chosen so that there are no mutual acquaintances between them. No one to reveal the secret that they believe will prove fatal if divulged. Unlike Call Me by Your Name, it is better for the Frankies to die than to speak.

It’s unbearably sad. One wishes these stories were a thing of the past. That there was some hope for these guys, that they could live their truth without the fear of being ostracized and abandoned. So you do end up feeling for Harris Dickinson’s character, who seems like a decent person deep down, but who cannot escape the destructive path that he’s carved out for himself. A game of mirrors and denial, refracting lies and deception to the point of destruction. Dickinson is very good at handling Frankie’s dual persona, radiating a tough confidence in public, while in private crumbling from the dishonesty he must practice to remain whole. Hittman makes sure to let the camera soak up every inch of his body, but not to objectify him. Rather, it is to imbue him with a vulnerability that only we can understand. It is an effective way of constantly reminding us that he is not a bad person, or someone we must judge harshly. That he is, instead, a boy in way over his head, and who cannot call out for help.

This isn’t 2017’s best LGBTQ film. I’d handily put Call Me by Your NameBPMA Fantastic WomanThelma, etc. above it (God’s Own Country unseen at this moment in time). But in its own way, it provides a striking counterpoint to the stories that seem more hopeful in nature.