An explicitly gay serial-killer flick, Hard might be expected to counteract, or at least undermine, the dubious take on sexuality endemic to its Hollywood counterparts, from Cruising to Basic Instinct to The Silence of the Lambs. But as much as John Huckert’s first feature strives for a mix of slasher chills and
anti-hate emoting, the film’s forte is clearly exploitation. Indeed, on its own lurid terms, Hard counts as a competent and confident example of low-budget genre moviemaking.
Mutilated bodies of young hustlers are piling up around Los Angeles. The killer (whose identity is established immediately) is a bearded, leather-jacketed gay drifter (Malcolm Moorland) who calls himself Jack. Raymond (Noel Palomaria), the young LAPD detective assigned to the case, is recently divorced and deeply closeted (not to mention surrounded by an entire precinct of raving homophobes). From this schematic setup, Hard proceeds to home in on the erotically charged relationship between hunter and hunted. (The film sticks to formula even in the details, down to the inevitable final descent into the killer’s dank torture-chamber of horrors.)
Mid-investigation, Raymond is picked up by Jack, only to experience a particularly rude morning-after shock. Having handcuffed Raymond to the bed, Jack taunts the cop, steals his badge, and before long has implicated him in the murders. The only way for Raymond to clear his name and catch the killer is to do the unthinkable: come out at work. The film’s main theme is self-loathing— it’s what fuels the murderer’s God complex, and it’s at the heart of the cop’s personal and professional dilemmas. It’s also well-worn psychological terrain— which Huckert and his cowriter John Matkowsky bulldoze their way right through, opting for leaden declamations even when the subtext is sufficiently loaded. There’s a racial component here, too— Raymond is Filipino American (he never uses his real name, Ramon, at work)— but the filmmakers don’t factor this into the equation in any interesting way.
Hard is a triumph of resourcefulness more than anything else— Huckert also edited the film and cowrote the score, Matkowsky shot it and did the production design. The movie wants to be more than a genre piece (hence cringe-inducing laments like “Where does all the hate come from?”), but there are serial-killer-movie references strewn all over, often without any real purpose. The look, tone, and pace are freely informed by Seven and Silence of the Lambs. Early on, Jack charms his way into a creepy Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer domestic situation. His absurdly casual body-disposal method is reminiscent of Man Bites Dog. The filmmakers’ indiscriminate cut-and-paste approach lets them down most glaringly in the final scene, a standard but-is-he-really-dead? coda— in this case, it’s a cheap parting shot that makes absolutely no sense.