Most “gay movies” feature bittersweet coming of age romances, hunky eye-candy sprinkled with drag queens or tragic death via HIV or gaybashing. But gay director Travis Mathews’ new film Discreet is another beast altogether. It’s a film about a young man in the south, traumatized by his childhood and wrestling with intimacy as the machismo of Trump’s alt-right America buzzes at the periphery. It’s stylish yet understated, sexy yet troubling … and starting June 1 soon, it’ll be at a theatre near you. (Watch the Discreet movie trailer here.)
Travis Mathews’ new film follows Alex, a drifter who cruises Texas’ oversized highways in a dusty blue van while listening to right-wing talk radio. Over the course of the film, Alex spends time caring for John, an older, despondent man with a nervous twitch; arranging discreet hookups in local sex spots; and eventually connecting with Zack, a teenage employee at the local donut shop.
But underneath Alex’s placid exterior lies a simmering rage about his past and his inability to overcome it. And as Alex journeys from innocence to fury, Mathews uses stark landscapes, atmospheric sound editing and non-linear storytelling to create an impending sense of menace that’s both tantalizing and frightening.
Most people know Mathews from his sexually explicit 2014 film collaboration with James Franco entitled Interior. Leather Bar.. But while the 43-year-old filmmaker made a name for himself through his earlier films about physical intimacy between men, he tells Hornet that he got the idea for Discreet by cruising hookup apps while in Texas.
“I expected to find closeted guys on the DL,” Mathews says, “but I wasn’t prepared for the degree of racism, internalized homophobia and the general fear of being seen, that was rampant. What fascinated me most were the profiles labeled discreet.” He continues:
There’s a lot of trouble to be had with most things ‘discreet.’ I think of it as the black box someone hides behind, or the story that’s never shared,” Travis says. “With these things, there’s always something that you don’t want someone to know, or to see, or to understand, and it’s central to Alex’s struggle. His big dramatic actions are also in response to the toxic, isolated world that he struggles to overcome. A community of people with discreet actions rely on each other to stay safe; Alex is trying to dismantle that.
Hornet provided funding and is helping find an audience for Travis Mathews’ new film.
“Sean [Howell, Hornet’s president] in particular put a lot of trust in me as a filmmaker and never tried to micro-manage the process,” Mathews says. “It’s been a great partnership.”