In many ways, writer/director Nick Verso and his films are the very essence of the Q in LGBTQ.
Well, one of the meanings, anyway.
The history of the “Q” in the LGBTQ acronym is a long and fascinating one, but to summarize, it has stood for “questioning” for those who are still searching for who they are and where they fit in the fluidity of the sexuality and gender spectrum and for “queer” for those who know exactly who they are on that spectrum but who find the strict categorization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans lacking in their definition of self.
Over time, and with a great deal of reclamation on our part, some have even begun using the term “queer” as a blanket term for the entire acronym.
But I digress…
In Verso’s case, he’s quite candid about his queer status but reticent to label himself further to avoid having his films painted with one narrow brush. He’d much rather let his work speak for itself which it does.
His films themselves are queer in nature, blending together genres, defying strict labels, and Verso sat with me to talk about two of those films in particular for iHorror’s Horror Pride Month.
The conversation began with his first film, a horror short called The Last Time I Saw Richard.
“It was the first film made, but the second written actually,” Verso explained. “I had already written Boys in the Trees at that time.”
As it turned out, The Last Time I Saw Richard was made as a proof-of-concept short film to show what Verso could do and secure the financing to make his first feature.
The short film tells the story of two teenage boys, Jonah (Toby Wallace) and Richard (Cody Fern), who meet in a mental health clinic when they are forced to share a room. Something is haunting Richard…dark beings who appear from the shadows at night to torture him.
As the boys grow closer, and their relationship changes, they discover that those darklings no longer have the same power to torment Richard when they band together.
It’s an amazing film that took me by surprise the first time I saw it. I’d never seen anything quite like it before with two male leads in the place where we would almost always find a male and female.
This kind of representation is exactly what Verso had been looking for since he, himself, was a boy.
“I couldn’t find a representation of masculinity that I could identify with when I was young,” he said. “That’s why I make the films that I do. I want them to appeal to everyone, including the people who live in the grey areas like I do.”
The short film was a great success and after a few starts and stops, Verso was on his way to making his first feature with Boys in the Trees.
In the film, we once again meet Jonah, though his circumstances have changed drastically, and it was actually Verso’s intention to have the same actor play the character once more.
There was just one problem…Toby Wallace had grown up a lot since the first film was finished and he simply didn’t fit the part anymore and though he’d been preparing to play the role for years, Verso suddenly had to ask him to switch at the last minute.
“Somewhere along the way, he’d grown up into a leading man,” Verso laughed. “It was very tricky for him. Jonah is the role that pulls focus but Corey [the role that Wallace took on] is much more layered and harder to play.”
Jonah is constantly bullied by a homophobic gang of teenagers in a small town in Australia, of which Corey is a member. We soon find out, however, that Jonah and Corey used to be best friends one fateful Halloween night, after a particularly brutal encounter, Jonah convinces Corey to walk him home and along the way they play a game of make-believe that they once played all the time.
Perhaps by the creepy power of Halloween or some other unseen force, the monsters of their youth come back to haunt them and the darklings dog their heels.
“The film is really a lot like A Christmas Carol only on Halloween,” Verso said. “You’re taken through the past and present a lot as they confront those monsters.”
And in one pivotal scene, Corey and Jonah wander into a celebration for Dia de Los Muertos, and it’s one of the most haunting of its kind I’ve ever seen. A lone woman sings a mournful song as a crowd watches surrounded by colorful decorations and photos of family members who have crossed to the other side.
Both Corey and Jonah have lost their mothers in different ways and Verso uses the scene to reconnect them to those women who are no longer in their lives.
“Mothers are off screen in this film,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful way of honoring the dead and it felt like the perfect way to tell this part of the story.”
Verso has a serious eye for scene and he manages to create visuals that are stunning and terrifying simultaneously, and that makes this talented filmmaker an important asset to the horror genre and especially to all those queer audiences who find themselves in the grey portions of the sexual and gender spectrum of identity.
You can see The Last Time I Saw Richard on Shudder and Boys in the Trees is available on Netflix!