Chicago Sun-Times covers SOCKET

Lesbian, gay fest will plug in to 'Socket'

November 4, 2007

It's hard to say what is more shocking about "Socket" -- the film's sci-fi/horror plot or that it's even being featured in Reeling 2007: The 26th annual Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival.

It's not that there isn't a Chicago connection with the film. Sean Abley, who wrote, directed and has a small part, is one of the founding members of the Factory Theater.

"He's definitely exploring new territory," says Brenda Webb, founder of Reeling, which begins Thursday at Landmark Century and runs through Nov. 18 at assorted theaters. "I know it won't necessarily be everyone's cup of tea."

"What can I say? I'm a big horror movie fan and an even bigger fan of [director] David Cronenberg," Abley says sheepishly with a laugh.

Cronenberg is best known for the 1986 remake of "The Fly" as well as "Crash," "eXistenZ" and "Scanners." He is credited with popularizing the film genre known as "body horror."

Abley's 2007 feature pays homage to Cronenberg in plot, tone and visual imagery. The film's plot centers on Bill Matthews (Derek Long), a gay surgeon who falls in with a group of people who all survived being struck by lightning and now purposely juice themselves with electric current.

"Horror for me isn't something that's coming at me, but rather what's inside me," Abley says. "There is something creepy about people doing something horrible to their bodies on purpose."

While some will see the lead character's descent into addiction as a metaphor for crystal methamphetamine usage at gay circuit parties, Abley says that wasn't the case. "On some level, it is a story about addiction. They try it, they like it, they continue to use it," he says. "But this was really about how Cronenberg incorporates science with the biological. That was more a jumping off point for me than circuit parties."

Abley first began to develop the idea for what would eventually become his film while still living in Chicago about 10 years ago.

"I kept seeing sockets coming out of human flesh and people plugging themselves in," he says.

When his career stalled in Hollywood, Abley dug up the outline for "Shocker" and wrote the screenplay.

"I took it to my agent, and he didn't want to send it out," he says. "He was worried I would be branded a gay writer. This coming from a gay agent."

There was a subtle, institutionalized homophobia in the industry, he says. "I was writing for a lot of children's TV and animation. While there is no lack of gay writers in television or film in Hollywood, there was a lack of gay shows or films."

Abley received a lot of offers for the script, but all of them were contingent on him making the characters straight.

"This was before 'Brokeback Mountain' broke everything open, and I don't really know why I was so stubborn," he says.

The film sat in a desk drawer for another few years before Abley finally took it back out and decided to produce and direct it himself. "I kept thinking about everything we were able to accomplish at the Factory Theater and figured if we could write and produce plays there, I should be able to make films."

Abley shot the film in nine days with a $100,000 budget. It has played other spots on the gay film festival circuit, where it has polarized audiences.

"The film is the sort of film you either love or hate," he says. "It's been criticized because the characters' sexuality isn't a plot point and because the two main characters aren't always likable. That makes it different than 90 percent of the gay films out there, and I don't mind that."

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