Dominic Haxton really didn’t want to make another short film. He’d already done four and he had his sights set on a feature length horror film that he was passionate about. Luckily for us, his friend convinced him to make one more. “Tonight It’s You” is one for the books.
“Tonight It’s You” opens on C.J. sitting on the side of a pool in serious need of a cleaning. As he stares over the water, we get a sense that life isn’t what he wants it to be. We follow him back to his claustrophobic trailer home and his night takes a turn when his gets a notification from a hookup app. The obligatory torso shot is good and he agrees to meet.
Then he arrives and is instructed to meet in the shed out back. Above all, be quiet.
“I wanted to play on the audience expectation of where the horror was coming from,” Haxton explains. “When he initially gets to the shed, you see occult images and you wonder what’s going on. Then you meet the guy and he’s kind of weird but they go ahead and hook up and you wonder what’s going on. Then the guy’s dad comes out of the house and you think maybe they’ve lured C.J. out there and they’re going to do something to him.”
As the young man, Hunter, goes out to meet his father, we immediately realize that this is not a good relationship. The father demands to know what his son has been up to and when he gives no answer, he’s told to go inside. As they both retreat indoors, C.J. decides to now is his chance to leave. The chance is short-lived however as another car pulls into the drive and a small town preacher and his wife step out of the car.
In a split second decision, C.J. enters the house through a window, only to find Hunter, the sweet young man he’d only had sex with a few moments before, tied and gagged on a bed. He begins to untie him but is forced to hide in a closet as the father, the pastor, and his wife enter the home. And that, readers, is when the real terror begins.
As the pastor prays over Hunter, I was convinced they were trying to exorcise the gay out of him. I’m from a small town in rural East Texas and that idea isn’t so far fetched to me. It doesn’t take long, however, for both the audience and C.J. to realize there is so much more going on here.
You see this guy just so happens to be actually possessed.
“The story I had was playing off the fears of being gay in a small town, living with your parents, and they have no idea about your sexuality,” the director told me. “So we played with this allegory of someone’s repressed sexuality being like a demon inside them. There are people who actually believe that gay people are possessed. You can go on YouTube and see videos of ‘gay exorcism’.”
Haxton turns the gay exorcism upside down, however. What happens when you want to exorcise the gay out of someone and it turns out they really are possessed? Haxton wants to be clear, however, that he’s not promoting the idea that one causes the other.
“A lot of people have made comments that I’m equating being gay with demons,” he says. “There’s this idea that if you make a gay themed horror film then this person or that person can’t be the bad guy because then you’re equating being gay with being bad. They protested Silence of the Lambs because they said it painted a negative picture of trans people. They did the same thing with the lesbian character in Basic Instinct. Anytime we see representations of queer characters in horror or in a suspense/thriller in a negative light or showing them as the antagonist, people think the filmmaker is making a negative commentary on it. But sometimes, the character just happens to be gay and he also just happens to be possessed by a demon.”
The rest of the film jumps with terrifying precision from scene to scene as C.J. desperately tries to escape a situation he never imagined, and Haxton beautifully pulls each scene together He has a keen eye that focuses the terror to pin the viewer to their chair.
Jake Robbins gives a strong performance as C.J. Not only is he a talented actor with classic leading man good looks but he also manages to give a performance that is sympathetic and honest as the fantastic and terrifying happens around him. The love scene he is shares with Ian Lerch (Hunter) is electrifying in its eroticism and beautiful its emotional vulnerability. You can feel Hunter’s need to touch and be touched by another human being and C.J.’s almost protective and domineering desire.
This film is a must see for straight and queer audiences alike. The gay characters are far from stereotypes, even if they meet under the most stereotypical of circumstances. Yet, they are human with all the human failings that come with our condition.
“Tonight It’s You” will be playing as part of a special horror block at the FilmOut San Diego film festival on June 10, 2017 beginning at 10 pm!