After announcing themselves as a queer filmmaking collective that weren’t afraid to take risks with both the horror genre they clearly adore and certain dynamics within their own community with their campy, giallo-inspired slasher Death Drop Gorgeous (now streaming on Shudder), Monster Makeup, LLC have more proven they aren’t a flash in the pan – or one to re-tread – with the wince-inducing Saint Drogo.
Looking to the folk horror subgenre for their next bout – fans of Midsommar and The Witch are likely to have a field day with this – Saint Drogo delights in nightmarish imagery and homosexual text (yeah, there’s no subtext here, and how!) as it breaks down community belonging, relationship struggles, and the monsters that quite literally eat what’s left of the marginalised.
Bookended by sequences of graphic, uncomfortable gore, Saint Drogo is a telling not for the faint of heart as it lays its focus on Caleb and Adrian (co-writers and co-directors Brandon Perras and Michael J. Ahern, respectively), a queer couple who are growing more distant with each passing day. Though it’s evident there’s still love between them, the professional power dynamic is unbalanced and both feel as if the other isn’t showing up for them when needed. Nothing a little getaway to Cape Cod won’t fix, right?
A couple’s retreat would be all well and good if Caleb hadn’t essentially framed the trip around his seemingly lost friend Isaac (Tradd Sanderson), who both Caleb and Adrian have had nightmares over, picturing him in an isolated beach setting as he slices his own stomach open and disembowels himself; this imagery one of the aforementioned graphic bookends that starts the film. There’s also the presence of Eric (Matthew Pidge) they have to contend with, a tour guide who casually inserts himself between the two, resulting in a type of throuple situation that unlocks a sexual desire in Adrian that slowly burns through whatever rope is left tethering him to Caleb; the subtle commentary here on an ‘open relationship’ and how one partner’s view can greatly differ to another likely to speak intimately to predominant queer audiences in attendance.
Though there is a cohesive narrative at play, Saint Drogo taps into something more psychological and visceral at its core, and the titular character – or creation, more correctly – is a haunting manifestation that links itself to a certain dominance that can so often plague the queer community; to say Perras and Ahern’s script is commenting on the faux solidarity of gay people would be putting it lightly. Similarly, in a time where there’s often discourse surrounding violence and, particularly, sex, Saint Drogo proves a project overseen by creatives aware of the need for such material is all the better viewing for genre fans who embrace the fact that such graphic depictions feel at peace with horror itself. It’s brutal, bleak and erotic.
A film that’s likely to be dissected by its intended audience, Saint Drogo demands conversation and reflection, and is a prime example of a project sure of itself and its intentions; a plus for its independent nature as it delights in its queerness away from studio interference. Saint Drogo won’t be for everyone – but since when did queer creatives care about pleasing the masses anyway?
Saint Drogo is screening as part of this year’s Nightmares Film Festival, running between October 26th and 29th, 2023 out of the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio.