A captivating and compelling snapshot of a boy on the brink of discovery.
With the awards success of last year’s Moonlight, and other high profile films such as Call Me By Your Name also featuring in this year’s London Film Festival line-up, LGBTQ+ films are gradually becoming more and more mainstream. Opening the doors for compelling films about all orientations and walks of life can only be a good thing, and Beach Rats from director Eliza Hittman is one of those such films.
Focusing on brawny yet baby-faced Frankie (the wonderful Harris Dickinson in his first feature film); a Brooklyn boy exploring his sexuality in the darker corners of the internet, all the while maintaining his masculine persona to his group of friends.
Shot in frequent close-up, Dickinson’s compelling features and big blue eyes are deliberately ambiguous; on the one hand rugged and masculine, and on the other soft and gentle. Focusing on Frankie, Beach Rats is a captivating character study which is more than just another coming out story, rather, it is an exploration of sexuality and discovering oneself.
Intimately and intricately shot, Hittman and cinematographer Hélène Louvart make excellent use of naturalistic lighting, with many of the more erotic scenes shot in near darkness, visually representing the hidden side of Frankie’s character. This provides a stark contrast to the brightness of the daytime beach scenes, and again does an excellent job of distinguishing between the public and private personas of Frankie.
The sense of containment and claustrophobia is also one of the key themes explored in Beach Rats. Never venturing out of his native Brooklyn, Frankie instead uses the internet as a portal to discovery and exploration, yet always maintaining a sense of closeness to his home. The men whom he meets all come to him, and there is that idea that Frankie feels trapped and restricted by his surroundings, yet it is a tie he doesn’t seem to be able to break.
Performance wise, Dickinson is the real stand-out as it is his film, and considering he is British, his convincing Brooklyn accent is even more remarkable. The supporting cast of his friends are genuine and believable, and in using non-actors, that sense of realism is heightened even more.
The deliberately open-ended conclusion may prove frustrating for some, but in allowing that space for contemplation and reflection, it ensures this film really lingers in the end. At times dark, powerful and raw, Beach Rats is a quietly intense and deeply personal film about discovery and exploration. It might not attract the same attention that did, but it is definitely one that is worth a watch.