A teen student named Carla discovers a secret chat group that her male friends have — a chat where they share nude or titillating photos and videos of unconsenting girls among themselves, and rate them in a particularly degrading way.
Presented with a moral and social quandary, Carla knows what she has to do. But doing it may mean losing her friendships with the boys she calls her friends.
Writer-director Carla Nash’s short, searing drama tackles a very current issue, but from a unique perspective: rather than looking at it from the POV of a perpetrator or a survivor, the story looks at sexual harassment and discrimination from the role of the bystander.
But with its taut, focused yet emotionally complex script and beautifully sensitive camerawork, Nash’s film looks at this hot-button topic with great intelligence and subtlety. Carla is a fully realized character, who feels a clear rapport with her male friends. Among these friends, she feels she belongs and is respected, although that dynamic may be changing, especially as they get deeper into adolescence and the hormones begin to kick in.
But when she discovers the secret chat, she realizes that whatever egalitarianism and acceptance she may feel could be an illusion — and her gender may indeed exclude her in both subtle and powerful ways in the future, especially as boys become men and girls become women, complete with social roles and expectations. She begins to wonder why the boys don’t sexualize her, but she also feels uneasy and “gross,” as she says, about what’s happening. The performances of the young cast, especially by lead performer Bridie Noonan, are sensitively rendered and well done, and take care not to demonize or idealize any position.
How Carla navigates her discovery poses powerful questions about how gender and power work in the most emotional and intimate ways — not just in the realm of romance, but in our search for belonging, connection and finding a place in the world where we feel respected, seen, heard and understood. Carla carries a heavy burden — she knows what the right thing to do was, but she risks ostracization from the group of friends she values most. The film doesn’t at all flatten her concerns, and makes clear the costs of what choice Carla eventually makes.
“Locker Room” is powerful, thought-provoking and memorable because, in some sense, we are all bystanders in this era of awareness — and often must weigh the costs of speaking up vs. staying silent. Through the lens of one character’s journey, we understand the small and insidious ways that oppression and domination work, especially in the realm of everyday life and emotion. In the end, the conclusion of the film is both deeply sad, subtly dark but also quietly hopeful — much like a lot of discussion that surrounds the film’s issues in general.