MiniReview: "Poison" (film)



James Lyons and Scott Renderer in the prison story.  

What is it?

It’s an American independent film from 1991 directed by Todd Haynes.


What’s it about?

There are three independent stories here, which are quite distinct and stylistically diverse: 1. A mockumentary about a young boy who kills his father and then escapes into thin air. 2. A black-and-white “horror” film about a doctor who accidentally ingests a drug derived from a sex hormone, with disastrous results. 3. Two men who knew each other in school meet up in prison and have a tortured and violent sexual relationship.


Okay, lots of variety there. Do the various bits hold together?

The director has been pretty ingenious in interweaving the stories so that one is never overly conscious of the fact that there are three distinct stories going on. Stylistically, as I said, they’re very different, but they are all queer and all contain a measure of violence and surrealism.


Queer how?

The boy in the mockumentary is a bullied oddball, a budding queer. In the prison story, one of the guys is openly gay and the other is latently so, and was also (as we learn in flashbacks) a bullied teen—such a familiar queer experience. And the doctor who ingests the sex hormone becomes a social pariah who gets stared at in the streets. Sound familiar, queer folk?

          And stylistically, there’s a kitsch element to the whole film that screams queer cinema.


It all sounds very lively indeed. Did you like it?

Yes, it makes for compulsive viewing. Never a dull moment here! My queer heart sang, watching these various oddballs and social rejects. Of course, no queer film would be complete without some erotica of some kind, and the prison scenes are hot. So, it’s a complete meal.


Does this meal get stars?

I’m going to go out a bit on a limb and give it two. The reason I feel I’m being a bit dangerous in doing so is that I don’t sense I have an intellectual grasp of this film, so how can I really judge it? It’s destabilizing. But it’s highly original and, I suspect, unforgettable (time will tell). It feels like a two-star film.

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