You Can’t Stay Here

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The thriller “You Can’t Stay Here” by Todd Verow transports audiences to the center of the Ramble, Central Park’s popular rendezvous that was immortalized in William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” for an intriguing mystery that is partially based on actual events. The AIDS epidemic is still at its worst in 1993. Gay men continue to find community and each other in the sun-splashed forest refuge concealed in plain sight, despite the risk and ongoing annoyance of police harassment. Rick (Guillermo Díaz), an aspiring photographer, discovers serenity, love, and photographic subjects at the Ramble, such as gentle souls like Hale (Becca Blackwell) and familiar faces like the appropriately titled Raccoon Man. When Justin Ivan Brown, a tall, blonde stranger, breaks up the peace by starting to kill guys in the Ramble

The screenplay, co-written by Verow and James Derek Dwyer, combines a number of well-known LGBT stories with paranormal themes to create a tale with numerous turns and turns, some of which are more successful than others. Rick’s past traumas are revealed through flashbacks and dreams. They include the breakup of his marriage with his wife (Karina Arroyave) when she discovered him having sex with another man in their apartment, the sorrow he feels as he bids his son Andrew LaFerrera farewell, the guilt he feels over his mother’s (Marlene Forte) Alzheimer’s disease, and the hurtful accusations that his father abandoned them because Rick is gay. Even before a demonic popper-poppin’ vampire starts out on a murdering spree in Rick’s neighborhood, it is a lot to deal with.

Inspired by films such as “Cruising,” “Peeping Tom,” and “Blow-Up,” the script builds a good amount of tension, particularly when Rick is doubling as the target and a voyeuristic photographer. However, it finds it difficult to maintain this tension in the presence of an unprofessional supporting cast and a clumsy voiceover reading of Rick’s inner monologue. Rick says to the audience, “Of course, I returned,” after he makes the decision to go back to the crime site. Never is a very long period of time. I constantly end up drawn back in. Everything is lost, abandoned, and left forlorn in loins. The body takes over when the brain goes down. This is a continuous inner monologue that robs Díaz’s act of its mystique rather than an isolated incident.

Díaz, who plays Rick, is the movie’s gentle yet stern character. Any flashbacks or allusions to events that occurred before to the film feel almost unnecessary because of how effectively he captures Rick’s suffering from both the past and the present in his portrayal. He seems to be in mourning, interacting with people in the Ramble with his camera before letting himself be exposed. He is primarily dressed in black and doesn’t seem to be trying to stick out. Brown plays the killer, his archenemy, and he lives up to his menacing trench coat appearance with a keen knife and piercing blue eyes. Rick faces this devil head-on and gains confidence; there is no regret or tenderness in his demeanor.

Verow, who also worked as the film’s cinematographer, makes due with the low budget scrappiness of the picture, but it’s an artistic decision that doesn’t always work—kind of like when a supporting character acts so strangely that it takes you out of the scene’s emotional resonance. The film transports the audience from the 1990s into the 2020s with its overly clear, digital appearance. It’s a risky move that doesn’t pay off, and it looks much worse in scenes intended for a club, such as those that are purple-ish daytime shots. The film’s poorly mixed sound mix could be compared to this. Set microphones failed to pick up on echoes or other inexperienced errors.

Perhaps “You Can’t Stay Here” isn’t a film that makes you want to watch it again, but if you’re not put off by non-actors and a busy narrative, there’s Díaz’s powerful performance to enjoy. While others in the scene try to ham it up for strained laughs, he plays the script with passion and seriousness—he is the heart and soul of the movie. His portrayal seems sincere and realistic in a film that combines elements of “Cruising” and “Blow-Up” with a vampire as a potential allegory for AIDS. With barely a word, Díaz’s expressive eyes conveyed the eerie atmosphere of “You Can’t Stay Here,” surpassing even the eerie sense evoked by a well-dressed demon.

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