CONTENT WARNING: THIS MOVIE IS FUCKED UP ON SO MANY LEVELS AND NO ONE SHOULD WATCH IT
Tag caught my attention the first time I read a summary of it and thought, “Holy shit, are they fucking serious?” Before I get to what made my jaw drop, I want to specify which Tag this actually is. It’s not 2018’s Tag about grown men playing a game of tag. It’s not 1982’s Tag: The Assassination Game with Linda Hamilton. It’s not even 2015’s Japanese Tag that opens with mass decapitations. No, this is 2015’s American Tag–or 2012, or 2014, or 2016 depending on which site you check–where McLovin gets sucked into one man’s plan to spread HIV to as many people as possible.
This movie is of course getting tagged–ha ha–“bad taste,” because holy shit, are they fucking serious.
I got a lot to say so lemme summarize the story as quickly as I can. Billy is a cultish leader of a group of homeless youths who is HIV positive and believes his death sentence–this movie ignores that treatments and medications for HIV positive individuals exist–makes him live life more fully. His childhood friends are Jacob (Mr. Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who Billy gave HIV to through a blood bond years ago, and Rae (Scout Taylor-Compton, AKA Laurie Strode from Rob Zombie’s Halloween) who is Billy’s pregnant, HIV negative girlfriend. Billy proposes a game of seeing who can infect more random people, with the winner getting Rae and control of the group. Jacob starts sticking just about every person he comes across on the street with an infected needle while Billy gets a job as a tattoo artist–how utterly convenient for the plot–and mixes his blood into the ink. The social worker who gave Billy the job (Traci Lords) figures out he’s behind the recent needle attacks, so he kills her in a drug-fueled frenzy. Rae runs away with a married man–don’t worry, I’ll get to him–but just has to see Billy first. When he finds out she’s not actually infected he tries to jab her, but Jacob stabs and kills him first. Rae runs off, Jacob almost kills himself but doesn’t, and the end suggests that the game will live on through some of the other kids.
There are so many things wrong with this film, I’m not entirely sure where to start. It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen that has moderately big names in it. Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Scout Taylor-Compton! Traci Lords! Then there’s Kane Hodder, AKA Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood through Jason X, who plays an abusive rapist that Rae sleeps with to hide from her stepdad, and who Jacob hunts down and infects later after… seducing him. Didn’t need that in my life. Do you know how many bad movies a horror icon like Hodder has been in? Enough that saying “this is the worst film I’ve ever seen with Kane Hodder in it” holds some weight.
So about that married man Rae runs off with. Yancy Arias is a dude the movie spends an inordinate amount of time on before he’s infected by Billy off screen. He instantly starts freaking out about possibly contracting something infectious, but yells at his wife when she suggests the same. I… you just contradicted what you said 10 fucking seconds ago! He eventually gets confirmation that he’s HIV positive, but finds a grim sort of peace in knowing he’ll die sooner rather than later. He suggests his wife start a family, but she’s not keen on, you know, the idea of raising a child while her husband is actively dying. He gets furious at this and she runs off, apparently for good. Then he and Rae meet again–they’d met like twice before that–and she somehow talks him into running away with her and the thousands of dollars her mom gave her in an attempt to make up for the fact that Rae’s stepdad sexually abused her as a child. None of this is okay. Not one aspect of any of this is a good idea. Am I supposed to feel sympathy for him? Because all I feel is contempt.
Oh, and don’t worry–the stepdad kills himself after Billy infects him.
Every time someone is upset about something, it’s for the worst reasons. Jacob argues that Billy working in a tattoo parlor and infecting clients is a bad thing because… it would give him an unfair advantage in the game. Sure, there’s concern it could–and inevitably did–lead back to the group, but that’s a secondary concern. No, that’s why people are freaking out about when Billy kills Traci Lords. And the stepdad? Before knowing he’s dead, Rae is furious at Billy because she wanted him to suffer on her terms, not his. IMDB suggests that a human person wrote the script, but I have my doubts.
I know that HIV and AIDS are not gay diseases. I know that straight people absolutely can and do get it. But HIV has a history with the queer community, so seeing it carelessly used as a plot device in a very straight movie is an extra layer on this shit sundae. There are three overtly queer characters: one is a dude who picks up Billy (who is pretending to be a prostitute) and ends up being the first person tagged. Another is Kane Hodder’s bisexual abuser/sadist. And the last is one of the youths in the commune/cult, Lala (Phillip Andre Botello). I bring him up because he’s the first person to volunteer for Billy’s HIV-infected tattoos and is the one at the end who wants to continue the game, but also because I can’t prove beyond a shadow of the doubt that the actor is actually gay. Botello doesn’t have much personal information about him on the internet, but he has played straight characters in several films. So the fact that Lala is so aggressively gay makes me think the whole thing is a straight actor cosplaying queerness. A relatively minor issue, but just another thing to add to the pile.
You have no idea how much I wanted to just laugh off the “Based on Actual Events” that pops up at the beginning of the movie, before I knew the depths it would sink to. I mean, I’ve heard that urban legend before: someone sits down in a movie theater or is walking on the street, when suddenly they feel a needle jab them. A person or a note says, “Welcome to the HIV club,” or something similarly ominous. There was even a supposed case back in 2012 in Seattle–a city the movie namedrops early. And yes, there are people who have spread HIV intentionally, but the majority of those cases were via sex, not needles. There’s even the fringe idea of “bug-chasing” or “the gift”–voluntarily contracting HIV–but the jury’s still out on whether that’s an actual subculture or yet another urban legend.
So this is all bullshit, right? Urban legend fearmongering? Well… maybe not. Also in 2012, a Swiss acupuncturist was arrested for infecting 16 people via needles. Why? I dunno, man. The cops had to storm his place after he stopped coming to court and found he built a barriacde. Dude was crazy. The same year–what’s with 2012 and HIV attacks?–a Canadian named Steven Boone was convicted of knowingly spreading HIV to four men, calling himself a “poz vampire.” That came up in the news again in 2019 after the attempted murder convictions were thrown out. Tag was most likely inspired one or both of those cases and several urban legends mixed together. And the result is just… fucking awful on almost every level.
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