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Turn Off the Lights: Even Sex Scenes Were Poorly Lit And Hard To See In 2022

Way back in early October, a sex scene shot on a beach caused a rather big ruckus on social media. Fans and critics of House of the Dragon took to Twitter to complain that they couldn’t watch Targaryen princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) finally have sex with her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) because the scene was too dark. The intimate scene was shot “day for night” — meaning it was shot during the day and then the levels were changed digitally later — by director Miguel Sapochnik and his preferred DP Fabian Wagner. The same duo who brought us Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night,” aka the big Winterfell night-time battle episode that people also complained was too dark.

Anyway… I was only surprised by the blowback the scene received because Rhaenyra and Daemon’s dimly lit hookup wasn’t the only sex scene that had me squinting in 2022. Heck, it wasn’t even the first House of the Dragon sex scene cloaked in shadow. While there was certainly an explosion of nudity onscreen in 2022, directors started turning the lights off in sex scenes. Horror director Ti West (thankfully?) staged an entire elderly person sex scene in near darkness in X. Even the final installment of Netflix’s raunchy 365 Days trilogy featured sex scenes that were so dimly lit, I had no idea what was going on.

Rhaenyra and Daemon kissing in House of the Dragon Episode 7
Photo: HBO

Call it commitment to the reality of the moment or an aesthetic choice, but in 2022, there were a ton of sex scenes that neither showed nor told us what the heck was going on. Why did House of the Dragon lead the way — and get most of the hate — for this relatively inoffensive trend?

One of the key ways in which HBO’s House of the Dragon sought to differentiate itself from Game of Thrones was in its treatment of sex on screen. Over the course of its eight seasons, Game of Thrones drew rampant amounts of criticism for its constant portrayals of sexual violence and over-reliance on “sexposition,” which is when exposition is dropped in tandem with a woman being stripped naked. The first sex scene in House of the Dragon establishes Prince Daemon’s impotence and young Rhaenyra’s early dalliances are juxtaposed with her Alicent (Emily Carey) suffering through her marital duties to King Viserys (Paddy Considine). The latter sequence was directed by Clare Kilner, who specifically wanted to bring a female gaze to Rhaenyra’s Flea Bottom date with Daemon and subsequent seduction of Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel).

House of the Dragon‘s sex scenes were less about fetish and more about character development. Hence, it was unnecessary to make a big deal about the sex on display. What was more important was how these scenes changed the way we viewed the characters in relation to the story.

Laura's jungle dream of Nacho in 'The Next 365 Days'
Photo: Netflix

What about the other dimly lit sex scenes of 2022? Perhaps the strangest one I saw was in the middle of the final 365 Days flick, The Next 365 Days. In that film, Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka) becomes increasingly unhappy in her marriage to domineering (and emotionally abusive) gangster Massimo (Michele Morrone). She pines for Nacho (Simone Susinna), the gardener/gangster she developed feelings for in the second film. At one point, she has an intense dream about having intense sex with Nacho in what appears to be a primeval hut. At least, I think that’s what happened. I really couldn’t see what was going on. Perhaps this was to mirror Laura’s own confusion? Which only adds to my confusion because this film series has been flirting the line with pornography since day one.

Speaking of pornography… Ti West’s A24 slasher X follows a 1970s adult film crew as they attempt to shoot an indie flick on a random farm. However, the group soon runs afoul of the elderly couple who own the land. Pearl (Mia Goth, in full prosthetics) and Howard (Stephen Ure) have sex after killing the bulk of the interlopers. Creepy? Sweet? It’s certainly not intended to be “sexy,” which explains West’s choice.

There are a myriad of other examples of this phenomenon from Frances (Alison Oliver) waking up next to a lover in total darkness in a later episode of Conversations With Friends to Bridgerton‘s choice to make Kate (Simone Ashley) and Anthony’s (Jonathan Bailey) first time a frenzied and rushed event under the literal cover of night. The Viscount Bridgerton hardly had the fun of sister Daphne’s honeymoon sex montage. Some sex scenes really did get a whole lot hard to watch in 2022.

Like, maybe the point of all these scenes wasn’t to titillate us at home? Maybe these sex scenes were just — gasp — events that were happening to the characters? Or maybe Miguel Sapochnik and his boy Fabian Wagner truly don’t understand that most of us aren’t equipped with state-of-the-art TV screens at home and botched Rhaenyra’s sex scene with Daemon on accident! All I know is I had to up the light levels on more sex scenes in 2022 than ever before.

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