One thing I’ll say about Matt Carter’s In from the Side: It’s not lacking in action. The opening shot of a damp rugby pitch soon becomes the site of a lot of large, good-looking men in tiny shorts smashing into each other and getting very muddy indeed. There’s plenty of action off the field as well, as several relationships come and go. There’s even a couple of music montages inserted into the film like raisins and walnuts in a muffin.
In fact, there’s a lot of everything in this movie, which runs 2 hours and 14 minutes and could well have left some of that running time on the cutting room floor. Not that I have anything against sports action, or action in the bedroom for that matter, in the abstract. However, for a narrative film to work, particularly at this length, everything has to function in the service of telling a story or developing characters and relationships. And in this film, it’s frequently just action for action’s sake.
In from the Side takes place among the players of a gay rugby team in London (with the absolutely perfect name of the South London Stags). Two of the players, Mark (Alexander Lincoln), and Warren (Alexander King) are both in solid relationships, but there’s an undeniable spark between them. Besides the problem that each is already partnered (one in an open relationship with limits, the other in a presumably monogamous relationship), they’re from different levels of the game. Richard plays for the A squad, Mark for the B squad, and they’re in a context where people care about such things. Still, as we learned in Jurassic Park, life always finds a way.
Given the length of In from the Side, it’s odd that an entire sequence involving a ski trip with Mark’s parents is included, and the film probably would have been stronger had it remained in the London rugby context. Granted, the ski trip does play a role in advancing the plot, but the same function could have been served in any number of other ways.
I don’t see any directorial credits for music videos in Carter’s bio, but In from the Side often feels like it was made by someone who had worked primarily in shorter forms before. The individual moments and sequences are often very effective, but they don’t coalesce into the kind of complete story that could sustain a feature film. Still, In from the Side looks great, the rugby action is convincing (the director must have recruited real-life rugby players as extras, since they clearly know how to play), and there are certainly a lot of handsome men featured in various states of dress and undress (if you like bearded guys, that goes double).
Carter is clearly a talented director, and seems to have done most of the work on this film—he’s credited as co-screenwriter (with Adam Silver), cinematographer, editor, casting director, visual effects artist, composer, and costume designer, I kid you not—so maybe he’ll get enough funding for his next film to hire people to do some of those jobs and bring their own talents into the mix. | Sarah Boslaugh
In from the Side will screen at the Hi-Pointe Theatre on May 8 at 7 pm as part of QFest St. Louis 2023. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available from the festival web site.