Review by Joseph Fayed
You Can't Stay Here seemingly has everything it needs to be a decent cat-and-mouse thriller. It is loosely based on a gruesome real-life murder and has its protagonist face various threats that could be very compelling to watch. Unfortunately, all the fixins provided here suffer from a lackluster script and poor acting that don't bring the range or depth this film desperately needs.
Rick (Guillermo Diaz) is an aspiring photographer living in New York City in the early 1990s. Rick, a gay man, likes to take photos in Central Park. He frequently, although discretely, takes pictures of other gay men hooking up in the park. One day, Rick witnesses a brutal murder and finds himself being closely followed by a gay serial killer. Unsure of who to tell, Rick winds up a part of a subculture he only knew from afar, one that he might not be able to escape.
Set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, the film doesn't have to do much to make it clear why our protagonist, Rick, would be living in fear. However, the film's biggest fault is making its antagonist — and its supporting characters — seem so unrealistic. You can't help but not care to root for Rick because the enemy is simply absurd. There is nothing sexy about this cat-and-mouse game either, which is what the film was clearly aiming for, but it feels almost PG-13 at times, even when there is meant to be something as risque as hooking up in public places.
I will give credit where it's due; some portions of the film are unintentionally hilarious. It doesn't delve into camp territory, though, because most of it sucks. The poor acting isn't over the top, as it falls flat. Guillermo Diaz struggles in his leading role, giving a performance that feels like it belongs in a Pornhub Original. The line delivery from every actor is generally bad, and it almost feels like it could've worked had they gone for a Gregg Araki type of dark comedy where humor counters the serious tone.
From a technical standpoint, the cinematography is a victim of not raising enough funds on Indiegogo to finance something that doesn't look like a Funny or Die skit from the early 2010s. The film also bizarrely cuts from scenes into dream sequences more times than was needed. None of it deepens the mystery, and it actually puts a pause on the cat-and-mouse game we are supposed to follow. The script also severely limits any thoughtful dialogue about gay sex and connection that lonely Rick seeks, outside of what sounds like a transcript of direct messages on Grindr.
When it's not trying to focus on the gay male gaze, You Can't Stay Here is held back by uninspired performances and lazy writing. It's not particularly sexy or thrilling, which tend to be the two biggest selling points in queer drama these days. American Horror Story: NYC has a similar premise with its own issues, but it still has more to offer than this does. This film is just like a bad hookup: you can't wait for it to be over.
You Can't Stay Here hits theaters on January 5.