The Cost of Change is a short film written and directed by Tristan Reginato – his first film, actually (OUT Magazine). It was uploaded to Vimeo on April 10th and if you want to check it out you can do so here.
The roughly 13-minutes movie tackles the topic of what might happen to an individual if there was a drug that could change one’s sexuality. In the film, this means that a pill named Gendora makes it possible for a gay man to ‘turn straigt’ – permanently, if taken long enough. The protagonist, Yuri (played by Gabriel Sommer), finds himself purchasing the drug for various reasons, such as parental approval and coping with the death of his boyfriend. A short while later, the pill already shows its effect as Yuri feels himself drawn to individuals of the female persuasion. Settled into his new, somewhat unhappy relationship with Gwen (India Menuez), he receives an unexpected voice mail from his dealer. Yuri learns that Gendora has devestating, even fatal side-effects and that he must terminate the ‘treatment’ immediately. However, this might all just have been a dream (which parts exactly I’m unsure, but I’ll get into that later) and, because his subconscious is telling him so (?), he decides to quit the drugs. As a result, Yuri is struck with the realization that he never needed Gendora, never needed to change his sexuality and is told by his friend that “there wasn’t anything wrong with [him] in the first place” (12:04 in the video).
So let me begin by mentioning the grand total of three positive aspects of this short. First of all, the concept of the movie, the whole idea of ‘would you do it if you could?’ intrigues me. Twisted, dark, novel and potentially gripping, this would make for one hell of a story on the big screen. Next is the lighting, which I think is rather well done throughout. The most notable and particularly beautiful instance is the moment when Yuri walks through the abandoned house and stops to hold his face into a bright ray of sunlight. I enjoyed this even though it did not contribute to the development of the character or the story. Thirdly, I liked the entire scene of Gwen’s exit after she spent the night with Yuri. It was well paced, underlined with some soft music and conveyed an altogether comfortable, happy feeling. And it is the only scene in the short that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe because it was silent (if you ignore the gruesome ‘dove’s feather’ line at the end).
Unfortunately, everything else about this film could be vastly improved, starting with the writing. It begins rather strongly with Yuri straightforwardly stating that there is a drug, what that drug does and that he intends to purchase it. I thought “Ok, no dancing around the subject, just straight to the point. I like that”. Oh, but what I thought was a bold introduction, maybe even a comment on unnecessary details and build-up included in many films, turned out to simply be a strange mixture of unimaginative, bland mono-/dialogue and metaphors reminiscent of a 14-year old’s grunge-y tumblr profile.
And why the constant repetition?
I’ll give you the address – Yes, please give me the address
You don’t have a drink – No, I don’t have a drink
Also, I strongly believe the writer doesn’t know what certain expressions mean. Yuri and Gwen “danced the night away” (6:00) but then still left the party early. So…it’s more like they danced 30 minutes away?
Moreover, I was utterly confused by Yuri bingeing on Gendora while writing a letter to D e a r R a c h e l. He barely seems depressed and not at all suicidal in the scenes leading up to this one when he asks out of the blue “Do I give up on this life that I invested so much time into?” (9:48) but then just a few lines later promises to stop taking the medication in the future. There was literally no point to such unprompted, extreme behavior whith no set up. Or was that scene already part of Yuri’s dream? Where did that dream start? Was it when he started writing the letter? Or when he listened to the message on his phone? Or was the message real and he only dreamt about the (unconvincingly acted) seizures that people were experiencing? Was all of that scene real except the part where Yuri was affected? Or was it not a dream at all but this fast-paced succession of images had no connection to the following shot of him waking up as if he just had a nightmare?
But the full embodiment of the atrocious writing is Yuri’s best friend. In the beginning she almost encouragingly discusses Gendora and its effects while her last line in the film can pretty much be paraphrased as “Yeah, I didn’t talk you out of spending (likely) a large amount of money on something potentially detrimental to your health and that completely alters your perception of other people…but hey, #loveyourself, amirite?”
Sadly, the writing isn’t the worst part; I resent the acting even more. Calling it ‘wooden’ would be an understatement. Never have I heard someone describe their relationship as “magical and passionate” (0:59) in such a dull and monotone manner. Never have I seen such an obvious lack of skill to portray normal human beings. The initial exchange between Yuri and his best friend has some serious ‘I’m extremely high but I am trying my best to act normal so my parents don’t notice’ vibes. The only character that shows the slightest hint of genuine emotion is Gwen. Everyone else might as well be replaced by mannequins with voice-over (and, boy, does Reginato love his voice-over).
The other aspects of this short film were largely unremarkable, although at times the music made the film seem more like a thriller than a drama. Especially when Yuri enters the abandoned building
with his goddamn serial-killer gloves. Together with the dull, grey-ish color palette during the majority of this scene, I could almost see it as an entirely different, sort of film-noir-meets-psychological-mystery type of story.
As already mentioned, The Cost of Change ends with an almost comically unoriginal ‘just be yourself’. Though I admit, I very much appreciate the subtlety of the implied aftermath of Yuri’s suicide attempt after the audience was steamrolled with the actual attempt itself.
I do know people who enjoy this short film and find meaning in the story and depth in the performance. I myself, however, cannot in good conscience give it a higher score than a 2/10. That being said, I did like the film visually which is why I can recommend this video, which Reginato also directed and edited.