Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!] Wednesday, 10/21/2009, 7:00pm Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
OCTOBER WOULDN’T feel complete without a haunted house, and none is more haunted than the one audiences explore in College Boys Live. On the surface, this documentary might look like one of the salacious offerings that every decent gay film festival needs to fill the seats. But George O’Donnell’s offering is not titillating. It is terrifying.
What horrors await? The genuine kind. Beaten and abandoned children grow into gay teens who make their way to sunny Orlando, epicenter of the artificial, where a well-meaning Zac and his partner, Jonathan, have a home for them — filled with cameras.
We follow the handful of ”college boys,” none of whom seem to actually be in college, as they masturbate while resting on a child’s Bob the Builder pillow, drink Mountain Dew and smoke Marlboro Lights. Zac explains to us that his site is not a porn site, and takes us on a tour of the home’s automation, which is something far beyond just the cameras. ”Claire” is the home’s automated system, audibly advising the tenants when it’s time for the video chats and whatnot. ”Tonight’s theme is ‘underwear,”’ Claire’s monotone voice creepily announces through the house, for example. “Chuck’s video diary is in five minutes. The time is 4:55.”
While Zac shows us the house, O’Donnell takes us much farther. Departing the confines of this video venue, O’Donnell journeys hundreds of miles to tearful family reunions, interviews with parents and siblings. With a masterful diligence, O’Donnell captures a love-struck viewer, the hugely unexpected and dramatic turns, the court date, the blow-ups. His final product delivers on every possible front, even managing to break the documentary filmmaker’s version of the ”fourth wall.” It’s a shaky, hurried Blair Witch moment that might have you jumping out of your seat.
The final scene of the movie — nearly worth the price of admission on its own — revisits the house six years after initial filming, sometime earlier this year, allowing us to know what’s happened to some of the tenants. That the audience is allowed this arc of time makes College Boys Live all the more satisfying.
In a word, O’Donnell’s documentary is riveting. What it is not, is mockery. Viewers will likely feel a range of emotions — fear, pity and shock among them — and nearly all will end their tour of the ”cam house” and its inhabitants stunned.
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