Queer Communities In Film: Spaces Between Life and Death

by Billie Walker

“How can one create a queer identity, or reinforce your authentic self when spaces are closed off?”
Two people stand centre frame, one man in a red jumper from behind holding the woman in front's shoulder as they look off camera
Still: 'Knife + Heart', Cannes Film Festival (2021)

The queer thriller can capture communities on the precipice between life and death. Knife + Heart (2018) and Stranger by the Lake (2013) are films in which killers stalk queer communities.


In both films, the characters are aware of the threat, but most continue to live their lives, choosing to value touch and physical intimacy, despite the danger. These films allow these characters safe spaces where outside threatening forces can be thwarted and the community can thrive.


 

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When hatred and homophobia is something faced daily, the need for physical proximity is greater. Characters such as Franck in Stranger by the Lake choose to pursue danger, enagaging in a sexual relationship with the murderer of his queer community.


Similarly, Anne in Knife + Heart becomes obsessed with the killer who is tormenting her friends. Their choice to ignore these deadly threats seems to come from an internalised hatred that society has enforced, but it could also be viewed as a reiteration of the lack of value they hold in the eyes of police and the state.


The police are nonplussed about the killings in Knife + Heart, and choose to interrogate the queer porn community the film focuses on, rather than keeping them safe.


Someone who ‘gets off on killing fags’ is of low priority to find. The police sneer at the sex workers, looking down at the pornography as exploitation cinema.


Two men look after each lovingly in centre frame in front of a backdrop of sunshine and foliage
Still: 'Stranger By The Lake', Peccadillo Pictures (2021)

The dismissal by police is paralleled in governments across the world during the AIDs epidemic, as the lives of queer people were not considered a loss by those in charge.


The COVID-19 measurements introduced by governments and the media’s selective coverage determining which lives were to be considered worthy, has reopened old wounds and questions around the AIDs crisis.


How many lives could have been saved if the bureaucracy had acted faster? The comparison between the rapid vaccine creation for COVID-19 and the slow pace of research and medical advancement for HIV and AIDs carriers is also stark.

 

Related: A Trans Narrative in ‘Girls Lost’: When The Egg Cracks

 

To the privileged few who feel welcome in all spaces, it may only be since lockdown that they came to hold certain spaces in high regard. For those living in fear of hatred and judgement, a safe space is sacrosanct.


In Knife + Heart it is a bar where the queer sex workers come to relax and bicker over the moral superiority of their craft: pornography vs. solicitation. The bar is a place for open discussion and the possibility for queer frivolity, one in which to live to the fullest, albeit awaiting another death.


While safeguarding queer spaces is imperative, they are not the only spaces queer bodies have the right to inhabit. Both films feature scenes of queer joy and community in the natural world, and often by a body of water.


In Stranger By The Lake, the men congregate by the picturesque lakeside. These hidden spots are where one can swim, laugh and relax without strangers’ eyes passing judgement over bodies or queer touch.


In London, other than queer clubs and bars (many of which are still waiting to open their doors), these spots are rarer. Hampstead Heath ladies’ ponds maybe be a haven for cis women, but its gates are not open to trans people.


A woman stands on a stage in a dark, red club environment surrounded by dancers
Still: 'Knife + Heart', Altered Innocence (2021)

How can one create a queer identity, or reinforce your authentic self when spaces are closed off?


There is a necessity for spaces which offer support and respect especially during times when threats are surrounding us. During the pandemic, online events served this purpose but the police and state are still threatening the queer communities livelihoods. As we see in these films, safe spaces must continue to be ours and ours alone, despite the many dangers pushing us to the brink.

 

Billie Walker is a London-based writer who enjoys Campari-based drinks as bitter as she is. There will always be a horror film on her laptop and feta in the fridge. She devours books as frequently as salty cheeses. See more of her work here