Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers
In 2017, reports of a brutal anti-gay purge in Chechnya made headlines. In response to the accusations, Alvi Karimov, a spokesperson for the Chechnyan leader, claimed that the reports can’t be true as ‘gay people do not exist in Chechnya’. These chilling facts are the foundation of Jared Watmuff’s film Hey You, which explores the parallel, intertwined lives of two gay men.
The film begins with two men texting back and forth on a dating app. After a ‘wanna cum over?’, the guys start preparing for the hook-up. Throughout the exchange, we are given subtle clues about how the characters’ lives differ: one man lies on a large bed in a softly lit apartment; the other sits in a cramped bathroom. One takes a leisurely shower while the other leaves his wife in bed, who lies silently with her eyes open. A bell is rung and a door is opened. What is on the other side demonstrates the most significant difference between the two men’s lives.
Hey You excels in juxtaposition. Visually, the cosy, creamy apartment contrasts with the harsh, blue-grey light of an angular housing block. The non-verbal sounds of the two men are powerful in revealing their different emotions. The decision to omit music and effects in favour of raw human utterances makes the film even more real. Noel Samuels is light, funny and disarming. Dmitry Spodobaev is superb in capturing his character’s capricious feelings of guilt, excitement and fear.
Hey You is the kind of film that leaves you in a solemn trance as the credits roll. The speed in which it turns the mundane and familiar into something violent and alien is why the film is so powerful. It’s a good example of being a victim of circumstance; of how something as arbitrary as geographical location can turn your sexuality into a death sentence.
It wrenches Western viewers — quietly content with the belief that the world is inexorably moving towards LBTQ+ acceptance — out of their comfort zone, providing a snippet of an alternative reality that reaches through the screen and punches you in the gut.
In just five minutes, Hey You will make you chuckle before breaking your heart. Visceral, powerful and essential viewing for audiences in 2019.