vonmanuelschubert 30.10.2023


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As part of the 18th Berlin Pornfilm Festival, Todd Verow’s new thriller, YOU CAN’T STAY HERE, celebrated its German premiere at the end of October 2023. Few filmmakers have been selected for the festival’s program as frequently as Todd Verow by its curators. YOU CAN’T STAY HERE provides a clear testament to why this is the case and why Todd Verow must be counted among the most fascinating filmmakers in contemporary American cinema.

“Look, you’re rock hard”

For Rick, it all begins and ends in the park. New York, early ’90s, the up-and-coming gay photographer Rick makes his way through Central Park and its cruising area. This part of the park is called “The Ramble,” a cruising hotspot in the southern part of Central Park that remains well-known far beyond New York.

Rick (Guillermo Diaz) approaches the scene as a sort of participating observer. However, he avoids making direct physical contact with the other men. He experiences the events through his camera, a Minolta that he borrows from his boss, an eccentric fashion photographer.

However, what he precisely seeks and intends to capture in his images remains somewhat unclear, even though we can see his photographic subjects: an athletic black jogger in a white jockstrap, a long-haired young guy in a blue shirt getting fucked, an older man at the roadside who has trained the park’s raccoons, a bloodied figure stumbling aimlessly through the night, only to disappear in the dark. YOU CAN’T STAY HERE.

Who lurks in the park?

We will come to understand why Rick uses the camera to create distance between himself and the other men as we progress through YOU CAN’T STAY HERE. It’s connected to his past and the demons within it, which he has obeyed for far too long instead of liberating himself from them. But for now, the immediate concern is evading a police raid: “Don’t run, they always look for the runners.”

The cops are not the only danger lurking in this park. Where did the bloodied man come from? Why is there a blood-smeared t-shirt hanging in the tree? What’s the story behind the bloodstain on the forest floor? Something is going on, or rather, someone is prowling around, and it’s far more than that. And Rick soon becomes consumed by the desire to uncover this someone with his camera.

Unbeknownst to him, Rick encounters the person responsible for this bloodshed at the very beginning of the film. A tall, slender guy in a semi-transparent dark latex coat walks past him in the park, offering him a bottle of poppers. Rick ignores him, and that turns out to be his stroke of luck. For now.

Against the Doctrine

YOU CAN’T STAY HERE is the (at least) 28th feature film by the American filmmaker and Berlin-Pornfilmfestival regular, Todd Verow. He is arguably one of the most exceptional and captivating contemporary filmmakers in the United States. You could categorize him as Independent or Underground, but Verow doesn’t fit neatly into any category. His cinematic storytelling has a distinct and powerful style.

One could describe his directorial style as theatrical, stage-like, sometimes even caricatural, yet very clear and self-assured in its form. He strips narratives and performances down to the bare essentials and yet maintains undeniable explicitness, not necessarily in a sexual sense. Elaborate cinematic artistry and the creation of fantastical worlds are not his forte.

The film worlds in Todd Verow’s work appear abstract, improvised, sketch-like, and sometimes peculiar. Their theatrical resemblance might bring to mind the style of the performance collective “The Nature Theater Of Oklahoma” (NTO). Co-founder Kelly Copper once described their approach to staging once for the Guardian as: “You shouldn’t feel like you can just watch the actors as objects: it should be a more complicated relationship.” Verow’s films, in a way, resemble the performances (and films) of NTO, but they should not be confused with each other. They are kindred spirits. What unites them is their shared departure from (not only) formal norms and conventions that act as doctrines in their respective fields.

A Wise Observer

To consider the obvious, the seemingly “staged,” as what it appears to be, simplifying and undervaluing it, would be too easy and lazy. In these films, there’s always more, and beneath the surface simmers a substantial amount of unease, depth, and trauma. Todd Verow consistently proves himself as a discerning observer of queer and gay lives and realities in each of his films. YOU CAN’T STAY HERE reaffirms this in a compelling way.

Of course, he captures the anticipation and unique tension that always accompanies cruising. Yet, he delves much deeper into how the coming-of-age experience becomes a trauma for gay men when they have to grow up in homophobic families. When the most important person in a child’s life, their mother, becomes the worst enemy, relentlessly pursuing and tormenting them for who they are at their core.

This trauma resurfaces as an obsession in adulthood, eventually leading to psychosis. A psychological state of exception that brings about self-endangerment, especially when a bloodthirsty killer roams the park.


YOU CAN’T STAY HERE is a genre piece, a thriller, loosely based on real events in early ’90s New York. Rick, the up-and-coming photographer, becomes increasingly absorbed in his search for the one who’s killing men in Central Park. He discovers the murderer in one of his photos, developed in his boss’s darkroom. It takes an enlargement, a blow-up, to precisely identify the killer’s face. Caught in the act.

This work can also be seen as a treasure trove for film enthusiasts, as it offers several references, such as Friedkin’s CRUISING, Powell’s PEEPING TOM, and, above all, Antonioni’s BLOW UP. Even thoughts of THE SHINING occasionally come to mind. These references are tributes, little tokens of love from a filmmaker passionate about cinema, who skillfully adds his own interpretation to these icons of film history. Nevertheless, at no point do they dominate YOU CAN’T STAY HERE.

Among Rick’s many problems, one is that the killer (compellingly portrayed by Justin Ivan Brown) has also recognized him. They begin to stalk each other. It becomes a kind of cat-and-mouse game that, in a peculiar way, blurs the lines between hunter and hunted. When the killer confronts Rick for the first time, he doesn’t kill him because he understands the impact of his presence, his threat, on Rick: “Look, you’re rock hard,” says the killer as he holds a scalpel to Rick’s throat. Who desires whom here?

Poppers and Scalpel

The enigmatic dance between these men is far from over, and Todd Verow continues to draw us deeper into the psychological and psychotic depths that drive both Rick and the killer, seemingly intertwining them inseparably.

YOU CAN’T STAY HERE doesn’t have a happy ending – or maybe it does? What if the only chance for redemption from childhood traumas and demons lies in the hands of a killer? And if that killer offers a bottle of numbing poppers and a scalpel?

YOU CAN’T STAY HERE is another standout (among many) in Todd Verow’s incredible oeuvre.

USA 2023; 105′
Director: Todd Verow
Writers: Todd Verow, Jim Dwyer
Producers: Guillermo Díaz, Todd Verow, James Kleinmann, Christian DiPillo
Editor: Todd Verow
Cinematography: Todd Verow
(c) Fotos: Bangor Films/PFFB 2023

This review was first published in the German language on this blog on October 25, 2023. Translated from German with the aid of AI. Minimal adjustments were made to the German source to enhance clarity.



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