House of Boys: A Gay Love Story Set In the Early Days of AIDS


Charting a self-enclosed world of dancing, drugs, and fucking—and eventually true love—House of Boys details the mid-’80s moment when Amsterdam’s queer scene first fell prey to the threat of that mysterious disease then known as the “gay cancer.” Shot in a vivid range of hues by turns eye-popping (drag performers’ costumes) and gray (the perpetually rain-soaked streets), Jean-Claude Schlim’s film treats the coming-of-age story of one runaway teen, Frank (Layke Anderson), who seeks shelter in the eponymous dance-club-cum-brothel with unhurried, set-piece-heavy exposition. And yet, for all its hanging on the details of the boys’ heavily eroticized performances and its graphing of the relationships between the young performers, the film is at once too drawn out and underdeveloped, so that when Frank finally wins the heart of hunky straight-boy Jake (Benn Northover), the transition from rejection to love feels both too long in coming and insufficiently prepared for. The same goes for the punitive second half, which plays as an extended death-watch for an AIDS-stricken boy, relying on endless, lingering shots of progressively worsening lesions to denote seriousness and a few television clips of Ronald Reagan’s fatuous speech making a vain attempt to break the film out of its ahistorical bubble.