How to Have Sex film review: The limitations of consent under a cascade of vodka and peer pressure

Molly Manning Walker’s nail-biting debut feature was a deserving winner at Cannes

How To Have Sex
    
Director: Molly Manning Walker
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins

Never mind the various franchise flicks of Halloween; here comes the most nail-biting movie of the season. This is not a horror film and yet, it’s impossible not to think of the immortal genre battle cry: “Don’t do it! Don’t go down to the beach tonight!”

The plot promises and often delivers fun; three British teenage girls awaiting their exam results head off for the best boozy holiday ever at the Greek party resort of Malia.

By night, the well-known Crete strip teams with drunken, horny youngsters. By morning, it’s a deserted rubbish tip until the visitors sleep it off. By evening, they hit the town for more debauchery and high jinks or stay by the pool for various resort-orchestrated beer and sex games.

After some fast-talking negotiations, 16-year-old chums Tara (the tremendous Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis) land a poolside room and attract the attention of like-minded boys Badger (Shaun Thomas) and Paddy (Samuel Bottomley). There’s an immediate spark between Tara and Badger, but her friend Skye, who has Badger in her own sights, nudges and jostles Tara toward Paddy.


Tara, who is oblivious to her friend’s ulterior motives and the vicious internalised misogyny underlying her friend group, feels obliged to go with the flow.

The deserving winner of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard selection, How to Have Sex tests the limitations of consent with a cascade of vodka and peer pressure.

British cinematographer turned filmmaker Molly Manning Walker has a keen eye for hen-party rowdiness and interpersonal teen rivalries.

Cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni alternates between sunny hedonistic tableaux and neon nightscapes. In common with Jakwob’s relentless dance score, it’s a raucous counterpoint to Tara’s unpleasant first sexual experience. McKenna-Bruce spends much of the film wandering about and processing. Her poor exam results further remove her from both her friends and the non-stop party. Youthful exuberance has seldom been so painful or compelling to watch.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic