aGLIFF: Diving Into the Dark Soundscapes of Discreet
Travis Mathews’ feature explores the twisting alleys of human interaction
Spotlighting the dark, twisting alleys of human interaction, Discreet explores modern American perceptions of masculinity and their sometimes dangerous consequences. Writer/director Travis Mathews explains, "It was clear even before Trump won his party's nomination that the GOP were racing toward a Faustian deal to do whatever necessary to retain power. They'd become a sick and immoral Frankenstein monster surviving on abuses of power. For Discreet, we looked for metaphorical examples of the most indefensible cycles of abuse to represent this cabal of the grotesque, and that's the film we sought to make."
When Alex (Jonny Mars), a drifter with demons, reunites with his mother, his precariously buried pain resurfaces with a vengeance. Seeking solace through intimacy, he is an adult with self-destructive tendencies, and it's clear that much of his inner turmoil stems from the abuse he suffered as a child. The perpetrator is still alive, and Alex, who attempts to temper his inner rage through an onscreen fixation with Mandy (Atsuko Okatsuka), wants revenge.
Filmed between Austin and Bastrop during the winter of 2016, this auditorily stimulating Central Texas film employs cutaways to create a staccato pacing, and Mathews utilizes sound as a storytelling tool. From close shots of bacon sizzling in the skillet to a haunting offscreen gunshot, there's a certain ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) feel to the film. Mathews says, "Before writing the first drafts of Discreet, I'd recently done a deep dive into the fascinating internet subculture of ASMR and I felt that our hero might employ such an intimate and yet disconnected tool to deal with his own PTSD and look for a strange kind of companionship there. Once this was established, the decision was made to construct the whole film as if it were pulled from an ASMR video, hence the strong focus on sound design throughout the film."
Even the sex scenes focus more on vocals than visuals, but Discreet is rated "mature" on Vimeo. Mathews attributes that to the strong feelings the film evokes. He says, "It's mature, but there's actually very little here that would even warrant an R-rating. I wanted to make a film that relied on your imagination and what waited just around the edges of the frame."
Discretion is a tricky business, and Mathews has firsthand experience with the real-life applications. He says, "When I was in Texas the summer before writing Discreet, I was listening to conservative talk radio and checking my Grindr. Coming from rural Ohio, I'm no stranger to the outrageous rhetoric on the right or the number of closeted men on hookup apps." In the film, Alex attempts to deal with his trauma and seemingly related internal battle with his sexuality by immersing himself in hateful, Alex Jones-esque talk radio.
Mathews continues, "I was alarmed and fascinated by the ways in which these two seemingly different things interacted and fed off of each other. I wanted to write a character who was vulnerable to the hateful rhetoric on the right. I wanted to explore how gay men were being impacted by these weak attempts of muscularity from those loud voices appealing to people's most base instincts. It creates a culture of fear and insecurity where hiding who you are becomes essential, if who you are deviates from the perverted vortex of mythologized white masculinity.
"I was alarmed by the number of black boxes on Grindr where men hid behind the word 'discreet' and it occurred to me that this was the title and essence of our film."
Discreet screens Sat., Sept. 9, 10:45pm. Director Travis Mathews, along with select cast and crew, will be in attendance.
The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival runs Sept. 7-10, at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. For more info, and to purchase badges and passes, visit www.agliff.org.