“If someone left a little slip of paper on a table that said, ‘I’m 78 feet away, I’m looking at you right now, and I would like to fuck you.’ That’s creepy! But on an iPhone it’s okay?!”
This is the premise of “Grind,” a new original musical short by Chemically Altered Productions that stars Anthony Rapp (“Rent”) and Pasha Pellosie (“Project Runway”). The film takes a critical look at the popularity of online dating and hook-up applications like Grindr, as well as their impact on gay culture.
Vincent and Thane are roommates and frequent users of the infamous cell phone app. Thane (model-turned-actor Pellosie) is an air-headed pretty boy model who thinks he is not smart enough to be taken seriously. Tired of meaningless hook-ups, he is searching for a real connection. Vincent (Rapp) is a witty, pretty-enough guy who feels lost and unappreciated in a sea of headless torsos. Yet, he has darker motives in mind, preying on the app’s seemingly endless supply of naive and desperate users.
After one too many failed encounters, Thane — who happens to be one of those headless torsos — enlists Vincent to flirt for him so that he can finally be noticed by someone with a brain. In return, Vincent starts using Thane’s pictures to pick up guys that normally wouldn’t give him the time of day. The two quickly become addicted to the new supply of men at their fingertips.
Thane, however, is not as dumb as he initially seems to be. It is not lost on him that the two roommates represent each other’s ideal.
Writer and director Zachary Halley does an excellent job immersing audiences in this cruising-obsessed digital gay culture. He asks all the hard questions about trust, safety, and anonymity, but prefers to let viewers come to their own conclusions. He also alludes to the wider impact online interactions have on society, not exclusive to gay culture.
“This is better than meeting someone in a bar or a coffee shop?” one of Vincent’s friends asks him, referring to the multitude of guys cruising on the app.
“Now, we’re always at a gay bar,” he replies with a smirk.
Lyricist Selda Sahin and composer Derek Gregor provide a series of catchy, pop-infused dance songs. “Stay the Night,” the musical’s opening number, could just as easily be found in any club as in a contemporary musical. “But We Do It Anyway,” one of their most powerful songs, probes the nature of cruising and points to its constant presence down through gay history. This song and “We Came Here Together,” sung while Vincent ensnares his latest catch, showcase considerably less sunny hues in Sahin and Gregor’s collaboration.
Broadway veteran Rapp, currently starring in “If/ Then” on Broadway, gives a haunting performance as the mysterious and dangerous Vincent. He delivers a powerful, rock-fueled performance reminiscent of his days playing Mark Cohen in “Rent.” Newcomer Pellosie holds his own against the veteran actor. He tackles the film’s more pop-influenced songs, “Stay the Night” and “Easier Not to Care,” with apparent ease.
“Grind” is a fun, sexy musical thriller that works mainly due to its frank approach to its subject. Reminiscent of classics “Sweeney Todd,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and the recent cult classic “Repo: The Genetic Opera,” the movie wisely turns down the camp factor and stays focused in its short but packed half-hour running time.
“Grind” was funded through multiple successful IndieGoGo campaigns, a crowd-sourced fundraising site similar to Kickstarter. The film made its US premier as part of the Duo Multicultural Arts Center’s 10th NYC Downtown Short Film Festival’s Audience Choice Screenings on March 24. The next screening will be at the Boston LGBT Film Festival on April 12. For more upcoming screenings, visit grindshortfilm.com.
For future DMAC screenings and festival updates, visit duotheater.org.
GRIND | Directed by Zachary Halley | Chemically Altered Productions | grindshortfilm.com