Review by Sean Boelman
Lukas Gage is one of the hottest rising stars in Hollywood right now, and he also serves as co-writer on his newest film, Down Low. The movie is somehow both nothing like what you’d expect and rather predictable, but it’s funny and inspired enough to make it more than worth checking out.
The film follows a repressed man who hires a young masseuse with the intention of finding a happy ending, only for things to go wrong when they attempt to take things to the next level. It’s a wild movie that, even though it’s somewhat obvious where the narrative is heading, its twists and turns still lead to an enjoyable ride.
The premise is obviously very conducive to dark humor in a Weekend at Bernie’s type of way, but this film takes it to an even more demented level. Throughout the first two acts, the conflict continues to escalate in ways that get progressively more absurd until it reaches a hilariously deranged climax.
That being said, the conclusion attempts to tack on an emotional ending that, while emotionally affecting, doesn’t feel entirely earned. Although it makes total sense why this is the conclusion they chose to go with, it feels oddly sentimental for a movie that otherwise has shown a wryly satirical tone for much of its runtime.
The cast is pretty fantastic. Zachary Quinto is playing the same type of repressed, anxious gay man that he has started to get typecast as. Similarly, it feels like Lukas Gage will be typecast as the fruity gay kid. However, the real standout here is Simon Rex, who is downright hilarious in a role whose charm is difficult to explain without spoiling it.
Admittedly, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew with regards to its themes. Gage and co-writer Phoebe Fisher want to talk about repressed sexuality, sex work, mortality, and a slew of other hard-hitting topics. In the end, it falls victim to the “jack of all trades, master of none” mistake, saying a little bit about a lot of things, but very little about most things.
One normally wouldn’t think of a movie like this to be a candidate for some impressive technical aspects, but Down Low boasts some really phenomenal sequences. One shot, weaving through the house as the characters attempt to hide a body, is kinetic thanks to brilliant production design and great cinematography. Other scenes boast extraordinary sound design and a vibrant soundtrack that envelops viewers into this world.
Down Low isn’t quite a slam dunk because some of its themes and emotional beats are somewhat underdeveloped, but it’s still extremely funny and well-crafted. Rightor Doyle has shown extraordinary potential as a director, and it will be exciting to see what he can do with a script that is slightly more polished.
Down Low screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 10-18 in Austin, TX.