The Latent Image is a 2022 British gay horror mystery, written and directed by Alexander McGregor Birrell with additional writing from the film’s main star, Joshua Tonks. Beginning his career in 2010, Alexander began directing the feature-length sci-fi horror Braincell (2010) and has since directed a number of short films. Whereas the film’s writer/main star Joshua is mostly known as an actor, performing in a number of short films. The Latent Image first began life as a short made by the creative duo in 2019, later being reworked into this feature-length film.

After heading to an isolated cabin to complete his work, a thriller author’s latest book seemingly comes to life as a mysterious, injured American arrives at the writer’s domicile – mounting sexual tension and uncontrollable fear. 

With storms lashing the forest night outside, our protagonist is left with his newspaper clippings and red string plotting device to battle with character creation and self-reflection. A torn and bleeding American soon arrives, inexplicably, and brings with him a brooding masculinity and more than a little alluring threat, as well as inspiration for our struggling novelist. His rifle, the burning of clothes, and the question of what is in the boot of his muscle car takes on the main interest of the film.

Interior red and blue neon lights contrast with the projector and analogue typewriter, adding a slightly dreamy, retro gleam to the otherwise cliche image of a struggling writer. A regularly utilised tonal score attempts to add to a sense of dread and vulnerability, against the more traditionally prophetic fallacy of lightning flashes outside. At times the camera swings around, in an attempt at directorial flourishes, and the use of a vintage handheld camera, and its silent granular footage of nature, play up to the hipster tendencies of the protagonist

For what is ostensibly a two-hander, that could be made more theatrical by imprisoning the action within the confines of the log cabin, the film is limited by a poor script and includes some bizarre behavioural choices.

The film feels rather slow, and it takes a long time before any backstory is touched upon. Although the characters’ sexuality is prominent, incorporating various visualised fantasies, I didn’t feel like I knew enough about either character to like or engage with them or feel particularly engrossed.

The Latent Image dips its toe into unsubtle meta discussion, with fictional characters discussing fictional characters, and even goes so far as to spell out chunks of subtext. While the incorporation of role-play was a decent way for characters to explore submissive possibilities and the limits of dominance, I had hoped it would be more creative or subversive, making more of its setting and pressurised interactions, but it ended up being rather straightforward, relying on a few too many rug pulls and dream cutaways in attempts to ratchet up the tension. Much of the nudity felt needless, however, and the ending was underwhelming, while the whole film contained too many jarring switches to be considered a noteworthy final product.

Overall, The Latent Image was fairly well handled, considering the limited budget, and it isn’t terribly acted, although it struggles to successfully film on-screen climactic violence.

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