Alex (Jonny Mars) is a drifter, travelling through Texas in a blue van. He stops occasionally to record random images on his video camera - excerpts of highway roads and so on - in the hope of his footage on day being accepted by an online self-help guru he's following called Mandy (Atsuko Okatsuka). Mandy's site promotes calm, "vibrational" relaxation through clips of sizzling bacon and the like. No, really.
Whilst on his travels, Alex pops in on his troubled mother, who he clearly hasn't seen in some time. During their conversation, she inadvertently reveals that the guy who'd abused Alex as a child didn't die like she'd previously told him ... he's still alive, and living in a country cabin nearby.
Of course, Alex is shell-shocked by this revelation. After the initial tears, he determines to visit said cabin and check out this monster from his past.
What he finds is not what he expected. John (Bob Swaffar) is now an old man with a white beard and a condition which causes his left arm to permanently shake. He's also mute, and seemingly has no recollection of who Alex is. Passing himself off to neighbours as John's grandson, Alex decides to stay at the cabin for a while.
In the meantime, Alex grapples with the painful memories this fresh encounter stirs within him, while hiding a secret gay lifestyle (involving regular visits to the back room of a sex shop where he's prone to fellating a married man) in the unforgiving Texan state.
Billed by its writer-director Travis Mathews as a commentary on Trump's America, DISCREET is an odd drama which follows the mental decline of its central character as the line between fiction and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred in Alex's disturbed mind. As he tends to John's needs and introduces a new young friend, Zach (Jordan Elsass), to the old man in the hope of witnessing his paedophilic urges resurface, it grows clear that what we're watching during the film's first hour is the calm before the inevitable storm.
This sense of ill-foreboding is accentuated by Mark De Gli Antoni's threatening score, which sounds like it's strayed straight off the soundtrack of a horror film. It works in an odd way, bringing tension to the most seemingly innocuous scenes. This is a small drama, a thinly veiled political allegory of life in modern America as a gay man, and in some ways a character study. But that score also transforms events into a tense thriller, forever reminding us to expect a downbeat finale.
To this end, Drew Xanthopoulos's excellent, spacious cinematography also treats the film as a dark and sombre affair. Despite a lot of sunshine and colour being evident throughout, there's an eerie hint of something insidious beneath the veneer of everyday American life. The term "Lynchian" is a lazy analogy - one I've been guilty of resorting to on more than one occasion - but it truly does apply here. From the surrealism of later events as Alex's thoughts become increasingly fractured, to the skewered riffs on middle-American ways (from bars, to cafes, to households, to families and beyond: Mathews taps into David Lynch's distinctive take on his home country, and pays stylish homage.
Capping this all off is a great lead performance from Mars. His facial expressions say more than any line of dialogue could, the feelings of hurt, confusion, anger and restraint coming through in a manner so unforced that we always empathise with him - even when he stealing from the wallets of people he's hooked up with on Craigslist for casual motel room sex.
DISCREET is a brooding 76-minute drama made up of exquisite photography, a memorably haunting score, fine performances throughout and an intriguing plot which doesn't insult its audience by spelling everything out.
The film is being released on UK DVD by Peccadillo Pictures.
DISCREET is presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions and looks very healthy indeed. Colours are warm and true; blacks are stable for the duration of playback; detail is fine throughout.
English audio is presented in 5.1 and offers a well-balanced, clean and clear proposition.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
The only film-related extra here is the original 93-second trailer, which does a good job of conveying the main feature's unrelenting tension.
We also get bonus trailers for B&B, INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, TOM OF FINLAND, EASTERN BOYS, THE SAMURAI, BOYS ON FILM 18, MARIO and MANSFIELD 66/67. The disc is also defaulted to open with the latter two trailers.
There's also a pretty cool director's statement to be found on the reverse of the DVD's cover sleeve, which explains Mathews' political motivations behind making the film.
DISCREET (the title refers to a word commonly used on the profiles of gay men advertising on Craigslist) is a solid psychodrama rooted by a fantastic central performance from Mars.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Peccadillo Pictures|