Femme: A necessary & gripping queer revenge thriller

Femme - Courtesy Brigade Marketing
Femme - Courtesy Brigade Marketing /

Femme, directed and written by Sam H. Freema and Ng Choon Ping, unfortunately feels all too relevant. It follows a drag performer, Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who is viciously attacked ten minutes after the film starts. This scene is tough to watch, especially if you consider the increased demonetization of drag artists and the broader LGBTQ community. What follows that riveting opening is a queer neo noir revenge thriller with two strong lead performances, plenty of erotic sequences, and explosive sexual peril.

Before the attack, we see Jules dressed up, commanding the stage and singing. It's clear his artistry gives him profound confidence. In fact, later in the film, he admits to his friends that his drag artist persona gives him strength he otherwise lacks. After the attack, which is led by a closeted gay man named Preston (George MacKay), Jules withdraws. He gives up drag and hardly speaks to his friends. What the directors do especially well is first establish the power of Jules' performance and then the aftermath of the attack, specifically the harsh effects of the trauma that Jules endures. Without drag, Jules shrinks.

Femme - Courtesy Brigade Marketing /

From that point, the film transforms into a erotic revenge thriller. Jules notices Preston at a gay sauna and eventually, forms of a relationship with him of sorts. However, in the back of his mind, Jules plots to upload a video of Preston online, thus outing his sexuality and shattering his tough guy persona. This becomes more complicated, however, because the two develop feelings for each other.

MacKay and Stewart-Jarrett's performances really can't be understated here. The actors give their characters nuance and depth. For instance, for as tough as Preston is, there are moments when MacKay gives him flashes of tenderness. He's anything but a one-note character, and the same is true for Jules and the various facets Stewart-Jarrett gives the character, be it as a drag artist, or a wounded character eager for revenge.

This film works so well, too, because it muddies and complicates the typical revenge thriller narrative. Jules and Preston have quite the character arcs. Initially, Preston tells Jules to avoid dressing "faggy" and to act like a typical bro around his friends, other street-hardened criminals who did time. Yet, because of Jules, Preston does soften at times, especially as the film pushes forward. Yet, he's also a combustible character, apt to erupt at any second. It makes for palpable tension and shifting power dynamics between the men, leading to an explosive and emotional ending.

As a whole, Femme is an emotional thrill ride with a queer narrative at its center. MacKay and Stewart-Jarrett offer harrowing and substantive performances. This is one timely neo noir revenge thriller with plenty of nerve-rattling pressure points and sexual tension. The film hits theaters nationwide on April 5.

Next. Psycho II. Psycho II: Examining the sequel's queer subtext. dark