Screen Gems

A hustler blackmails a closeted, married man. Is it bad if he likes it?

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.

The Fascination: Rialto

This British-Irish drama took us off guard last fall when it won us over with its mix of character drama, eroticism and obsession. Rialto tells the story of Colm (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor), a blue-collar dock worker dealing with the death of his father. As he struggles with the pressures of work, a needy mother, a pair of distant teenage kids and a passionless marriage, he happens on Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney) a teen hustler who propositions–then threatens to blackmail–him in a public bathroom. What begins as an odd slave/master relationship takes on an emotional life of its ow, as Colm finds himself more comfortable and emotionally open than ever before.

Rialto channels the ambiguity of erotic thrillers like Blue Velvet and Sauvage/Wild as it explores the Jay/Colm “friendship.” Does Colm feel romantic love for the first time in his life? Or is he just turned on by Jay’s aggression and transactional dealings? Does Jay develop true feelings for Colm, the father he never had? Or is he just trying to make a living? The film also benefits from a terrific performance by Vaughn-Lawlor, who makes Colm into a blend of anxiety, lust and neediness, and who isn’t afraid to make Colm borderline pathetic, either. Rialto builds to horrific, if ambiguous climax. No doubt audiences will be left to ponder what they’ve just seen as they try to dissect such rich and elusive characters.

Streams on Amazon, iTunes & VUDU.