DVD Review - Confessions (2016)

Inherent in a confession is the idea of guilt, feeling bad about some act you've committed. Being that this movie is about ten, gay men giving testimonials, it's not just guilt about something they did. For a few, it's guilt about something they are. Just being homosexual has historically been tantamount to a crime, so admitting it, having to speak to it out loud, has been equal to admitting that you're a criminal, that you're wrong or that you're damaged in some way. This movie in many ways is looking at that damage, looking at it right in the face and addressing it, just as the characters will look directly into the camera and address it, meeting that crossroad where desire and fear collide.

Writer-director Mark Bessenger has crafted ten, short films and has lined them up one after the other. Each short film is separated with an interstitial of text on screen. That text often reveals a sexual secret, a secret where again desire and fear collide. Structurally, the interstitial parts preface or echo some aspect of the following, short film. If there is a commonality between the short films besides the characters' orientation, their relative youth and privileged whiteness, the commonality might be their insecurity. There is an air of it that wafts through Bessenger's series of confessions here, which is to be expected. Insecurity or shame is an oft-explored theme in queer cinema. What isn't expected is when Bessenger is subversive or when he embraces his wicked sense of humor to bring to this material what are great bits of comedy.

Yes, these are confessions, but it's not all woe-is-me. If Bessenger is guilty himself of anything, it's that he's not wicked enough. He doesn't give all or even most his characters things for which they should confess, if we are to take these confessionals in the Catholic sense. There are really only three times when Bessenger crosses the line and utilizes the kind of darkness he displayed and seemed to enjoy in his previous feature Bite Marks.

All the rest is not that outstanding on paper. What makes them outstanding on screen are the performances of the actors. If this collection of short films accomplish anything, it's providing a platform for the actors in it to shine. In most cases, they're aided by solid, if not very clever writing on Bessenger's part. In three cases, however, the actors transcend what might have been on the page and deliver so much more.

Peter Stickles is perhaps the most adorable man on planet Earth who first impressed as a lovelorn vampire in the TV series The Lair and later as a creepy stalker in the film Shortbus. Stickles was quite funny in that 2006, orgiastic movie. He's also given good, comedic performances in various TV shows and movies like George's Intervention, a zombie spoof, but his role here might be the funniest performance that Stickles has given thus far and he's only on screen for four minutes.

Stickles' scene is intentionally the most comedic, as in retrospect he's playing arguably the world's worst boyfriend but is ignorant of how horrible he is. His lines of monologue are basically a rundown of all the bad things he's done to his partner, which to any rational person would be obviously horrible but Stickles' character doesn't see the horror in them at all. Yet, the way Stickles delivers these lines is hilarious and makes each line funnier than the last. It would make for a great bit in a stand-up comedy act. His refrain of "Is it because..." is just great.

Dylan Vox is perhaps the sexiest of all the guys here, and it's not because you see him topless with bunny ears. It's not even because there's a veritable gang-bang going on behind him. Vox could be fully clothed and alone and still exude more sexuality than all the other short films here, even if all the others were outright pornographic. Something about his eyes, his voice and entire demeanor undeniably commands the screen. Vox can sell vulnerability at facing down an abusive father, as well as the thrill of masturbating to an image of Jesus Christ with equal aplomb and seduction.

Vincent Cusimano is perhaps the best dramatic actor of everyone here, which is probably why Bessenger gave him the most amount of screen time. He's given 17 minutes to monologue and Cusimano absolutely nails it. He combines the best of all the actors and then some. He's funny. He's vulnerable. He's sexy. He's strong. He figuratively and literally transforms himself on screen, and you buy him becoming these different people right in front of your eyes. Each person is a riff on masculinity and the closeted male.

Bessenger sets up the scene so that Cusimano is staring at his reflection in a bathroom mirror. Yet, as it plays out, he might as well as be looking at himself in a series of funhouse mirrors. It's not necessarily reflections but refractions, the idea of looking into oneself and seeing someone else looking back, or even hearing someone else talking back. Cusimano starts off with what might be his own slight, southern accent and takes it to different places, places that might befit his physical changes, voices to go with mutton chops, a goatee and a mustache. It's a brilliant performance.

This is not to discount the other seven actors here who also do a very good job. Most notably Stephen Twardokus who has a kind of Ethan Hawke vibe. Tom Goss (pictured here) continues to prove he's most expressive when he's singing, and Mark Cirillo continues to prove he's one of the most reliable actors to come along in a decade. He doesn't appear on screen in his main Avenue Q-inspired scene, but he hits a homer with it.

As a cohesive piece, Bessenger's previous film The Last Straight Man, which also features Cirillo, is better, but that's not what this is trying to be. It's just snapshots. Some might find the first confession a rocky start, which invokes the Bryan Singer-like sex abuse accusation, along with some porn shaming. Maybe, Bessenger could have pushed that particular confession till later. The third confession about incestuous molestation might be off-putting to people, especially because it's not outrightly condemned, but that's the joke of it, although some might be unsure of the punch line. Otherwise, this is a great assemblage.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains nudity, sexual situations and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


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