Wild Tigers I Have Known

USA 2006

Film still for Wild Tigers I Have Known

Reviewed by Sam Wigley


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

America, the present. Logan, an effeminate 13-year-old who has difficulties fitting in, develops a crush on Rodeo, an older boy at school. Clumsy and awkward, Logan increasingly experiments with wearing lipstick and dressing up, to the distaste of his nerdy friend Joey. A news story about the mountain lions that live in the nearby forest intruding into the town plays on Logan's imagination; he drifts in and out of daydreams about them in between fantasies about Rodeo.

Leaving a meeting with the school counsellor, he meets and chats to Rodeo and the two strike up a friendship. Logan begins phoning Rodeo and pretending to be a mystery girl from school called Leah; he seduces Rodeo into mutual masturbation during an explicit conversation, though Rodeo seems aware of the pretence and only feigns involvement. 'Leah' agrees to have sex with Rodeo and arranges to meet him in the caves outside town; Rodeo seems genuinely surprised when it is Logan who turns up at the caves.

Facing mounting rumours at school, Logan admits to Joey that he is gay. In a dreamy sequence, an alarm sounds a warning that there is a lion on the school campus; Rodeo holds out his hand to it. A shot rings out. Logan is subsequently seen unharmed. Logan and Rodeo exchange glances across the schoolyard.


Cam Archer's stunning debut filmpulses with the libidinous fever of adolescence. From the opening, in which we find 13-year-old Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) masturbating in bed as wrestlers grapple in slow-motion on his television, Wild Tigers I Have Known evocatively distils puberty's hot torpor of awkwardness and disjointed desire. Already the visuals have a heightened beauty, with the wrestlers abstracted into a cathode-ray grill as Logan fingers himself within the folds of his sheets, the stitched Garfield logo of his sweatshirt glowing orange with an eerie luminosity.

Archer's film continues in this piquant vein, offsetting Logan's hermetically private perspective with a stylised palette of thick, immersive colour and a rumbling soundtrack of glitchy ambient waft. Wild Tigers is an intensely controlled and accomplished film, belying its small-scale origins with a hyperreal burnish that is intoxicating on a large screen. At times, this aestheticised surface threatens to overwhelm, as the visuals surge into one onanistic fantasy of lithe boys in violet meadows too many. But, mostly, the succession of fashion-plate tableaux - Logan standing over a swimming pool as front-crawlers glide past in the lanes below him; Logan and a friend posing with baseball bats for a photograph, his lipstick undermining his macho posturing - offers an exquisitely appropriate backdrop for the teenager's peculiarly beatific angst.

Growing up with his mother in secluded suburbia, Logan is alienated from junior-high normalcy by his attraction to boys, which focuses into an infatuation with an older rebel, Rodeo (Patrick White). Yet he has a starry poise that is worlds away from the maligned misfits in the films of Todd Solondz or Harmony Korine. Floppy-fringed and plump-lipped, he is closer to Donnie Darko's brooding discomfiture, drifting through youth's halcyon tedium with an overcompensating imagination fixated on local tales of outcasts hanging themselves in caves and, in particular, the mountain lions that wander the outskirts of his hometown. In one haunting scene, Logan imagines the lions decimating a dance-floor of revellers, leaving bodies strewn amid fallen party balloons. Like the visions of a giant rabbit that plague Donnie Darko, these roaming predators underscore Logan's mundane idyll with a tantalising glimpse of the primal.

Though Archer luxuriates in a polish that would once have seemed anathema to the underground (even now one is not quite used to technology affording such lustre in so small and personal a project), it is clear that Wild Tigers owes as much to the experimental lineage of Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger, with their orgiastic reveries of resplendent homoeroticism, as to offbeat indie cinema. Archer is more alert to mood and tone, to the spry twitches of supple flesh, the vapid flicker of the television and the embarrassment of an inopportune erection, than he is to storytelling or even character. Thus, for all its enveloping textures, Wild Tigers misses the plangent emotionalism that Gregg Araki brought to Mysterious Skin (2004), a kindred but more dramatic tale of homosexual estrangement to which Archer's film bears an intriguing resemblance.

It would be easy to damn Wild Tigers as an uncomfortable alliance of avant-garde tropes and advertising chic if its insistent gorgeousness were all one remembered later, but there is more here: a compelling depiction of the furtive machinations of clandestine sexuality; the dreamy sadness of Logan, again in bed, as Nina Simone's wistful 'When I Was in My Prime' washes over him from the TV; the indelible strangeness of Logan affecting a female voice to speak to Rodeo on the phone - his lips remaining still - as bare lightbulbs shimmer on and off. Above all, there remains the limpid promise of its young director, for whom Wild Tigers I Have Known provides a heady calling-card.


Directed by
Cam Archer
Produced by
Cam Archer
Written by
Cam Archer
Photographed by
Aaron Platt
Edited by
Cam Archer
Production Designer
Thecla Niebel
Original Music
Nate Archer
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011