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Popcorn Frights Review & Interview: ‘Saint Drogo’ Masterfully Explores Dying Love and The Eldritch Unknown

Popcorn Frights Review & Interview: ‘Saint Drogo’ Masterfully Explores Dying Love and The Eldritch Unknown

This will function as both as a review of the great film Saint Drogo and a polemic against an often straight, cis-enforced marketability for queer art. When queer art is forced to perform queerness instead of simply being queer, then it runs the risk of performing the gaze, narrow representation, and simplification of queer life and priorities.

Why do I mention this? First, there is a subtext to a lot of writing on Letterboxd about Saint Drogo that thus far implies it isn’t gay enough or that it isn’t gay correctly. Second, when I told a friend that I was going to be writing about the film they told me people would be uninterested in my perspective because I wasn’t the right kind of queer to write about it: fuck that.

The film opens on a bleached, desaturated New England shore. Cold tide rolling in, low ugly shrubs dot the sand. A shoeless man kneels, digging into the sand with his bare hands as a hooded figure, clad all in white, carrying a staff of beach wood approaches. The man finds a sharp, rusty object in the brush beneath the sand and as the figure in white touches his shoulder, in a gruesome display, cuts open his own belly and begins to unspool his own intestines: he eviscerates himself for the figure in white.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence that a film contending with the question of “the right kind of gay” as one of its themes is now itself subject to people questioning whether the film is the right kind of gay. Maybe if the directors had knelt and eviscerated themselves for their satisfaction, we could dispense with the dubious assaults on the film’s queer credentials.

We then find ourselves in a house at night, where framed photos of smiling men are shown via insert shots — they look happy, connected — before arriving on a shot of them lying in bed together. They lay facing away from each other, and in the bed is an expanse between them. The photos are artifacts representing a happier time. One of the men, Caleb, awakens with a start from a dream where he sees what we saw in the opening. The man cutting himself open was Isaac, Caleb’s ex-boyfriend.

The following morning we get insight into Caleb and Adrian’s dynamic. Caleb wears earbuds while sitting at their breakfast island, sketching, as earbuds are better for ignoring Adrian. Once he removes them they have the kind of practiced, uneasy conversation that couples have when they dislike each other. They find ways of slinging barbs about a dinner party, basketball shorts, and work. They talk the way couples do when the people in the relationship are messy and sad. The remnants of love might exist, but this isn’t tenable anymore.

I think this is where audiences are getting uncomfortable. We get a long term queer relationship and it’s not happy. The film frames both men as sympathetic and doesn’t blame one of them for the relationship’s problems. This may be a horror movie with cults, gore and a malevolent, ancient, evil being but at its core it’s a 78 minute movie about the painful end of a relationship. Sorry, straights who thought you were going to holler “yas, queen” at your televisions for the whole run time; this is a movie about characters experiencing deeply relatable pain. You might even end up empathizing with these characters as real people instead of reducing them to compartmentalized gay cartoons.

Over a series of first act scenes we see Caleb and Adrian, alone and together with various friends. We see them blame each other for their disconnect. A few visionary dreams later and they’re on the road to Provincetown — ostensibly to find Isaac but in reality to try to save their relationship.

There’s a great bit of physical acting in a pair of scenes designed to show how much it hurts them to try to come together. They then arrive in Provincetown, begin their search, and meet Eric. Everyone in a serious relationship that lived well beyond its expiration date has met an Eric: he’s a harbinger of the impending breakup who awakens chemistry in one of the members of the couple.

Eric shows Caleb and Adrian around, where reactions from locals range from useless and warmly reassuring to useless and rude. “Check the soup kitchen!” “He’s probably shacked up with some guy.” An angry, snarling antique shop owner named Myron sets the bar for rude in their quest.

Myron is interesting because he establishes the second major theme in the film. We’re no longer just discussing the decay of a long-term relationship, we’re also examining how a community can be at odds with itself when it is reliant on short term vacationers. Provincetown has a year-round population of around 6,000 people. During vacation season the population rises to around 65,000 people, with even more people showing up for day and weekend excursions. Myron expresses contempt for “the Summer people” but an antique shop couldn’t survive in a town this size without a sizable seasonal population. He hates that the town isn’t what it once was, and he hates that he is dependent upon these people.

Our story progresses with Adrian and Caleb drifting further apart, while Caleb puts all of his stock in finding Isaac. As the hunt continues, he further romanticizes the relationship with his ex-boyfriend. The grass was once much greener before he was unhappy with Adrian. Adrian finds relief in intimacy and closeness with Eric. While Eric is there to superficially offer help in finding Isaac, it becomes obvious quickly that he is there because of Adrian as well as some unexplained ulterior motive.

Eventually, a strange drug is revealed, and we discover that most of the summer people that stay during the winter are members of a cult. If I could shift back to complaining about lazy criticism of the film for a few minutes, I would want to pause and talk about the discourse around this film being “folk horror“. Folk horror is at its core about the danger of ignoring old belief systems and about displaced history. In The Wicker Man, a community artificially resurrects a regional pagan religion in hopes that it will enrich their fruit harvest, resulting in a cop being burned alive because he does not take the resurrected faith seriously. In Midsommar, a group of graduate students visit a rural community in Sweden to observe their Midsummer rituals and don’t perceive danger even after seeing a man’s face came down on with a wooden mallet. The film examines smug American imperialism in the face of cultural difference. These are the kind of themes found in folk horror; evidence of ritual and faith aren’t what slot a movie into that genre.

On the other hand, cosmic horror is the horror of the unimaginably terrible or terrifyingly alien and ancient. For Caleb and Adrian, their lives together and apart are both unimaginably terrible. What god Drogo is a saint for is never explained mercifully. The fine points of the cult’s faith is never explained. All we need to know is that the end of this relationship hurts for them.

It’s worth interrogating your own preconceived expectations for this film. Don’t shove this film into a box because a few friends on Letterboxd called it folk horror. Don’t demand that your queer film always be tinged with camp, comedy. Don’t ask this film to perform queerness, just let it be. You’ll find a compelling, tragic, visually seductive exercise in melancholy waiting for you. Be on the lookout for a release later this year, and check out my interview with the directors below for further insight into the production of Saint Drogo.