SXSW Film Festival Narrative Spotlight Section
Reviewed for FilmFactual.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Rightor Doyle
Writer: Phoebe Fisher, Lukas Gage
Cast: Zachary Quinto, Lukas Gage, Simon Rex, Sebastian Arroyo, Christopher Reed Brown, Audra McDonald, Judith Light
Screened at: Stateside Theatre, Austin, TX, 3/15/23
Opens: March 11th, 2023 (World Premiere)
Some people need the right circumstances to come out of their shells. Pushing outside a comfort zone can be a jarring process and cause people to do things wholly unlike themselves, fueled with adrenaline to power through an extraordinary situation. Down Low presents such a setup, with one man with very little left to lose doing things he would never do and constantly questioning himself in a deranged comedy that almost immediately goes off the rails.
Gary (Zachary Quinto) lives alone in a large house and nervously welcomes in a man named Cameron (Lukas Gage) to give him a happy ending massage. Cameron doesn’t just do the job he’s been hired for, pushing instead to learn who Gary is and startled to find out that this is his first experience with a man. Determined to give him a memorable night, Cameron hastily invites over another man to the house and things get out of control, leading them to grow much closer than expected as they attempt to navigate out of serious trouble while continuing to learn about and criticize each other.
From the moment that Cameron reveals his real name – he uses an alias for his clients – he doesn’t hold back at all. He’s set on telling Gary exactly what he thinks of him and lecturing him on all the ways he’s still in the closet. It’s a very frontal performance, one that sees the White Lotus actor firing off quips incessantly, having made up his mind to fashion Gary into the man he believes he has the potential to be, even if that’s absolutely not what Gary wants. He has no filter whatsoever, and Gary’s lack of engagement with him only bolsters him to push harder.
There is something about Down Low that just doesn’t click. It feels wildly over-the-top even in just the first few minutes and only gets more outrageous from there. Cameron is a lot and Gary is so buttoned-up that there’s theoretical potential for comedy from their odd coupling. But none of it feels natural, and there’s so little subtlety embedded that it’s hard to digest. There are laughs to be found but it’s a film that goes hard the entire time, leaving minimal opportunity for respite and for any degree of logic. For some, that may not be an issue, but it does detract from the story’s effectiveness.
This is a comedy that leans into its ridiculousness, inviting audiences along for one hell of a ride. If they’re able to access it right away and get swept along with its signature tone, it should prove very enjoyable and hilarious, but for those who just don’t quite buy it, it’s hard to then jump in at any point. Gary has been exposed to so little in his life, and as a result Cameron wants to let him in on as much information as possible. Topics include things gay people are supposed to like and know about and the ease of utilizing dark web, and Cameron essentially spends the entire film spewing his opinions as if they’re fact. It can be tiresome, even if Gage’s commitment to the part is admirable.
What Down Low does offer is a story that proudly spotlights queer characters and gives them a great platform. They may not be making the best decisions, but they’re being true to who they are, and this movie celebrates that. Its comfort with excess well before its characters smoke crack and actually start seeing things that aren’t there is less commendable, leading to an almost hallucinatory experience from which there is no escape. It orbits a surprisingly dramatic conclusion before returning to its true comfort zone: broad comedy, something this film delivers in overwhelming, exhausting supply.