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Content warning: The following review contains descriptions of sexuality and BDSM. Reader discretion is advised.

For those uninitiated, a “play party” is a get-together where a bunch of kinky people gather in one location to have fun. Usually hosted in a play space (what might be called a dungeon in the popular lexicon, but that’s so cheesy not even we say it) with adequate furniture and amenities, it’s a time for a group of like-minded perverts to meet new people and see old friends, watch others have fun, and maybe engage in some fun themselves. The exact goings-on vary wildly between nights and the space you’re at. Although most public spaces generally have similar rules in the broad sense (no piss or shit, emergency scissors required for rope bondage, etc.), some of those specifics might not be so consistent (for example, I’ve been at some places that ban blood altogether, and others only ban actions which may make blood airborne). Even beyond that, the varieties of play in the BDSM and kink scenes are so vast as to make any prediction a crapshoot. One night you’ll see some nice, almost quaint spanking; the next you’ll see someone on the ground sobbing, covered in bruises, and deeply, deeply ecstatic. And the first time I went to one, I was utterly terrified.

I mean, what would happen? I wanted to be there, sure, and I’d had plenty of experiences with this stuff in my own time, with my own partners, but being there, around so many other people, was somehow… different. It was this simultaneous rush of excitement and, to be frank, arousal (look, we’re already talking about this, let’s not be coy) mixed with fear and anxiety. The anxiety was not so much over what would physically happen to me (those spaces are, in the vast majority, incredibly concerned with consent, and if anything it’s a far safer space to play in than some rando’s house), but over whether I would transgress some sub-cultural mores, whether I would look like too much of an amateur, whether anyone would even be interested in an ungainly six-foot-tall chubby trans girl sub. It was all the social anxiety of an ordinary party, but with the added goal of being naked in front of a room of strangers getting my ass beat by the end of it—much higher stakes, in other words. But I did find someone there in the end, and after spending all night circling each other, misreading signals, not even realizing I was being flirted with, I was laid across their lap, had my lily-white butt turned blush red from hands, crops, and paddles, and left with a better high than any drug I’ve ever taken.

The reason I’m telling you all of this (besides the fact that “pervert” is part of my brand at this point) is that Meredith Alloway’s Deep Tissue is the most evocative portrait in recent memory of this mundane yet socially unusual fear and the ecstasy that can come from going through it. You don’t have to be a special-interest freak like me to know that feeling either—just the nervousness of meeting someone in a motel can do, or taking your clothes off in front of someone for the first time—that buzzing sexual energy, the feeling that you just might jump out of your skin right before you shiver under someone’s touch. It roils with rich and sensual awkwardness, with tension and passion, but also with the ungainliness of a first date. The little touches—handheld closeups of faces, an unanswered question, the plastic bag that hotel cups live in until you use them—are what sell the scenario as more than a conceptual gambit. They are perfect little avenues of clumsy early courtship, of not knowing what to say to someone before you start taking off their underwear. Alloway has created a film of foreplay and climax that reaches out and touches the audience as well.

Our main character, Viv (played with impressive nuance by the director herself) begins the short in a hotel room waiting for someone to come see her, grabbing at her flesh and marking herself with lipstick Xs. When her anticipation arrives, it’s in the form of Sebastian, a scruffy man in all white carrying what looks like a massage table. After some initial discussions about procedure and preparations (what can be laid down as a tarp, is she worried about making a mess of the comforter, the fact that Sebastian usually only makes house calls), Viv see him lay out the tools for what’s to come—some bottles of hydrogen peroxide, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and syringes. It’s this last tool that she hyper-focuses on, that draws the camera’s eye, that is as scary as it is potent and charged with kinky meaning, leading to her almost having a panic attack in the bathroom. To say much more would be to spoil what the planned activity is, which would be an injustice on my part—suffice it to say it is both horrific and deeply, resonantly sensual and erotic, the sexiest bit of film I’ve seen all year.

What strikes me most are the small actor choices we see and the subtle way the camera frames them. Sebastian touches his shoulder in much the same place Viv makes a lipstick X beforehand, and we see through her eyes as she focuses on it, can imagine the texture, imagine the feel of his skin, of his shirt, how good it would feel to slide our hands across it. Viv asks him his name, and he continues like he didn’t hear her. It’s not rude so much as it is a show that he knows what he’s there for, and her small talk isn’t it—she’s feeling out the social context of this brand new situation, and finds a new edge to it through his example. When Viv comes out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, her fear has become excited anticipation, still awkward but no longer uncertain. She wants this, and she’s excited. He asks if she’s ready, and, smiling, she asks him the same, and he smiles like he didn’t expect to be asked. Her smile is the smile I give before every scene I do, signaling that I’m ready to go; we may not know each other yet, but you’re about to leave some marks on my body, and this is our icebreaker. Let’s start the game already.

Deep Tissue is, above all, deeply in tune with the subtlety of the erotic, of the moments that are sexy but not explicitly sexual, of the fearsome joy that can come from a new experience. It reminds us not only of our own strained and strange first encounters, but of our desires of the new, of the exciting, of the unique. It bathes itself in a subspace afterglow to assuage the guilty, to comfort those whose desires land outside the ordinary. It finds beauty in the push and pull of tension, attraction in the taboo sensation, camaraderie and sweetness in the mutual pleasure that comes from satisfying an unusual taste. By the end, you can see in her eyes that Viv is already planning Sebastian’s next visit, and this time she’ll be ready for him. She’s going to make a house call. She’ll be able to scream.

Directed by Meredith Alloway; written by Meredith Alloway; starring Meredith Alloway and Peter Vack; 9 minutes.

Deep Tissue is currently touring the festival circuit. Visit Alloway’s website for more details.