Film Review: ‘Chemsex’


In many ways, drugs can benefit lives – even save them – but they also have a dark side, which is the focus of Chemsex (2015). This hard-hitting documentary explores a hidden underworld of the homosexual community, whereby men become reliant on drugs – taken mostly intravenously – to fuel their libidos, more often than not at a dangerous and serious cost to their health. Directors Max Gogarty and Will Fairman combine candid interviews with real footage of buzzing club nights and weekend-long sex sessions.

It’s extremely invasive and explicit, in a heart-breaking kind of way where these fifteen people’s lives have been upturned – or even ruined completely – by something which initially appears to be harmless fun. That’s perhaps the scariest conclusion that Gogarty and Fairman draw; that something like this could happen so easily. A night’s indulgence could lead down never-ending paths and even incur knock-on effects, such as HIV infection and addiction. The fact that the interviewees are so open to discussing their precarious situations is both surprising and refreshing, particularly when applied to a topic that tends to receive more surface-level treatment. Support for these victims comes in the form of David Stuart, a counsellor at one of the NHS’s foremost care facilities.

Their confessionals at the start, in front of a brazen red curtain, are the catalysts to in-depth discussions with David as the reasons behind their addictions come to light; their lives dramatically altered as a result of one or two foolish decisions. The information shared between these interlocutors is enough to send a shudder down anyone’s spine. HIV is treated like a goal and the longer – and dirtier – the sexual encounters, the better. As a result, it’s safe to say that Chemsex is far from an entertaining watch, but of course, that’s not the intention at all. It’s designed to cut deep into the darkest corners of this subculture – one that is spiralling out of control, that not many people seem interested in reaching out to. If it weren’t for David Stuart and a few other institutions and organisations, these fifteen men wouldn’t be making steps, however small, to dealing with their issues and what this way of life has done to themselves, their bodies and mental and physical well-being. As daring and frank as it may be, Chemsex is also one of those documentaries that actually gives a damn about its subject.

Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens