B&B is a smart, stylish, Hitchcockian thriller with a social conscience that brilliantly subverts many of the genre’s tropes and audience expectations
Times of great political unrest and struggle have yielded some of the most enduring, most thoughtful and thought provoking horror films ever made. Filmmakers often create terrifying allegories to explore contemporary social and political issues, reflecting the collective fears and real life horrors of the time.
With a nation currently starkly divided amidst one of the most volatile and uncertain political climates of a generation, it’s no surprise that horror is having a great year — with 2017 already proving to be the most profitable for genre box office in well over a decade.
In a similar vein to the surprise blockbuster hit GET OUT from first-time director Jordan Peele, a film which addressed racial tensions in a “post-racial” modern America, the new British psychological thriller B&B adeptly illuminates the ongoing conflict between homosexuality and conservative Christian ideology.
Written and directed by BAFTA-nominated Joe Ahearne (Trance, Doctor Who), B&B is a thriller about a homosexual couple fighting for recognition of their civil rights by waging war with the devout Christian owner of a remote guesthouse.
Having successfully sued the owner, Josh (Paul McGann) for previously denying them a double bed, the recently married couple, Marc (Tom Bateman) and Fred (Sean Teale), return to the establishment with something to prove. The film begins with Marc and Fred checking into the B&B. There’s a very brief exchange with Josh in which we learn the couple is there to celebrate their legal victory over the establishment owner. They know Josh doesn’t want them there, and that’s exactly why they want to be there.
We learn that their legal battle was a highly publicized and controversial one. It’s made clear that plenty of people know about the couple’s plans to return to the B&B they sued for discrimination. This sets up a very real potential threat as a mysterious and imposing Russian man (James Tratas) checks into the guesthouse shortly after Marc and Fred arrive.
From there, the film takes plenty of cues from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchock, who Ahearne admits to being greatly inspired by. We experience the night’s shocking events unfold through the eyes of our protagonists as they (along with us) try to figure out who the Russian is, what he’s doing at the B&B, and exactly whose side he’s on.
The hotel owner’s 16-year-old son, Paul (played by the exceptional Callum Woodhouse), adds a further wrench into the developing plot, revealing a dark secret that ratchets up the tension and significantly raises the stakes for everyone involved.
Inspired in part by real life current events and in large part by Joe Ahearne’s own personal experiences, B&B is more than a taut and intelligent thriller — it’s also sophisticated social commentary about the conflict between honoring basic human rights and respecting deeply held religious beliefs.
“Me and my husband stayed at a B&B a few years ago where we didn’t feel at all threatened but had a definite sensation of not being entirely welcome, like we weren’t really supposed to be there. It was that germ of unease I magnified for a suspense film. Adding religion to the mix made it personal and shows that while a lot has changed, some things never will,” explains Ahearne.
The film recognizes the complexity of the issue and the strong beliefs on both sides. While the story is told from the perspective of the gay couple, the obvious protagonists of the story, the “villain” of the story is not so clear cut. In fact, as the film progresses, the waters become increasingly muddied as the tension builds.
Due to some smart writing and stellar performances, characters rise above two dimensional descriptions of good and evil.
McGann as innkeeper Josh gives a powerful performance and helps makes an otherwise clear cut antagonist into a complex and sympathetic character. Ahearne himself says he understands the tendency to have ‘sympathy for the devil’, even if you abhor the ideology.
Although we never get any real backstory for the couple and don’t get to see their relationship develop, Teal and Bateman have a solid onscreen chemistry — managing to effortlessly sell the depth and sincerity of their connection and making us care about their predicament.
B&B is a film that masterfully balances quite disparate tones — light and charming at times, intense and chilling at others. Starting out funny while drawing seemingly clear battle lines (our gay couple vs the homophobic business man), the movie gradually darkens and challenges audience expectations at every turn.
There was a twist I didn’t expect and an ending I never saw coming.
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