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With stellar performances and a plot that pulls no punches, “Femme” nails the tried and true thriller formula filtered through a queer gaze.

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Femme is an erotic thriller that takes noir elements and tells a sexy revenge story.

Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, 2021’s Candyman) is one of London’s most celebrated drag artists. One night, after a show, he is brutally attacked by a gang of men. Though he recovers, Jules is left traumatized. Months later, he runs into one of his attackers in a gay sauna. Jules begins an affair with the closeted Preston (George Mackay, 1917) — with vengeance in mind.

It is a dangerous game that is filled with tension.

Both men live with dual identities or outright lies. Jules is forced to abandon his drag alter ego, Aphrodite Banks, after the savage beating. This leaves him feeling incomplete. For his part, Preston is forced to hide his true feelings from his homophobic friends.

And this is just the surface of the character-driven plot.

Once Jules and Preston begin their relationship, the sexual politics and power games in Femme heat up.

Although the film is often uncomfortable to watch, it does a great job of exploring the innermost feelings of its two leads. The changing dynamics ensure that it remains compelling.

Initially, just out for revenge, Jules begins to form an actual connection with Preston; this may be worrisome to some viewers.

Plenty of movies have made the mistake of trying to humanize vicious antagonists. Providing motivation is one thing, but asking the audience to empathize usually negatively impacts a movie. Femme appears to be going that route, especially when it seems like Jules may be developing genuine feelings.

Thankfully, this is far from the case.

Femme uses the familiar setup to explore themes of identity, sexuality, and toxic masculinity.

These are heady topics that are easy to mishandle — the MCU has gotten it wrong for years — but Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping (the writers and directors) show a deft touch and treat each subject delicately.

The performances do an excellent job keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.

Stewart-Jarrett essentially plays a dual role. Banks is a powerful presence that commands attention and respect.

Jules is understandably meek and unassuming after the beatdown.

Preston is a menacing presence that can go off at any time. It is an exercise in self-control for anyone watching when he is on screen. He exudes a frightening aura that is difficult to watch.

Together, the pair have great chemistry. They play off each other perfectly and provide Femme with emotion and energy. Their interactions are central to the film and its driving force. Even when the plot gets a little too familiar, the acting will keep anyone watching engrossed.

The combination of in-your-face storytelling and strong performances is an exhausting watch in all the right ways.

Because it tackles so many ideas, the ending will not please everyone. Still, Femme is an impactful watch that is as mesmerizing as it is disquieting.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
Femme opens in theaters on March 22.

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