An intriguing mix of social commentary and titillation, Marco Berger’s “Horseplay” straddles the line between mind-boggling male bonding and gay pandering. Don’t get me wrong, “Horseplay” is a fascinating watch for a number of reasons, but the ultimate point might be lost among the naked skin, bare butts, and exposed private parts of Berger’s rough-housing actors.
What’s so interesting about Berger’s latest exploration of male heterosexuality is the constant homoerotic play that the men take part in. The group of guys that make up his cast of characters are all friends (and some former teammates) who are spending the Christmas and New Years holidays together at a friend’s house, complete with a pool and wooded acres to explore.
We open with the guys taking a mid-afternoon nap, sharing beds, couches, and floors together, most of them shirtless, while others are completely naked. This would seem normal during a gay weekend, but when most of the group is straight, it does seem a bit odd and perhaps just a gay, male fantasy. It might also be cultural, as this takes place in Argentina and not in the U.S. While countries outside the U.S. tend to be more open, this seemed extreme. And not just because they were lounging around with their privates exposed but because they consistently partake in pranks and dares that involve homosexuality. Whether it’s taking a pic that looks like one is having anal sex with another (for posting on social media for fun) or daring each other to kiss for five seconds to win a few bucks, the continuous gay “horseplay” doesn’t even seem real. Is this really how straight guys act behind closed doors?
The struggle here is when we realize that one member of the group is a closeted gay man (Franco de la Puente) who is surrounded by playful but mocking homophobic antics. Meanwhile, he and one of the others (a closeted bisexual) hook up in private.
There is a tense and violent turn late in the third act, which can be taken several ways and doesn’t really have an explanation. Could it be the result of repressed homosexual feelings? Blatant homophobia? Jealousy? It’s not totally clear and allows the audience to lay their assumptions on the act, but it’s curious nonetheless.
A group of girlfriends arrive at one point, which immediately ceases the gay horseplay, but also brings up various topics that all seem to revolve around toxic masculinity. This is where the film gets truly compelling, and Berger could have stood moving away from the half-naked fun and games to the real issues at hand. There are guys who are completely homophobic, others that call them out on it, and then others that may or may not have actual homoerotic tendencies. This is what is fascinating about the mix of men Berger has assembled, who, of course, are all stunningly attractive in their own ways.
Certainly, this film won’t be for everyone. Straight men will either be uncomfortable or tire of the naked antics. Gay men will be dazzled by the eye candy but long for more of the depth that Berger only peeks at from time to time.
The ending is certainly a shocker, but also not totally unexpected. The fact that the film ends with the act of violence begs us to wonder what happened after. Perhaps this is where the film should have started so that the gay play they all participated in is put into question.
Overall, it’s a weirdly compelling film with natural, energetic performances that create a documentary-like feel. It will be titillating for some, but in the end, disturbing to all.
Horseplay will hit theaters on June 2 before releasing on DVD and Digital on June 13.