Movie Review - Test (2014)

Scott Marlowe (left) and
Matthew Risch in "Test"
This film has played in festivals for the past year and is now getting a theatrical and VOD release two weeks after HBO's The Normal Heart and only four months after the Oscar wins for Dallas Buyers Club. The connection is that each movie deals with the issue of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. Test centers on a young ballet dancer in San Francisco, 1985, whose buildup to a new show coincides with the buildup to him hearing about the outbreak of the virus and him considering taking the blood test that would say if he's incurably sick.

Writer-director Chris Mason Johnson follows his debut The New Twenty (2009) with this period piece that's all about anxiety and the paranoia during that time within the gay community. It's not like Philadelphia (1993) that directly addresses the disease and its reality once someone has it. This film is all about the fear of those early days when no one knew what HIV truly was or how you got it.

Johnson makes a point of showing the sweat of a very sexy dancer named Todd, played by Matthew Risch, drip off him and land on his female dance partner who then freaks out. Johnson underscores his protagonist and backup dancer, Frankie, played by Scott Marlowe, being obsessed with clearing out his apartment of mice. Mice of course are the traditional symbol of disease and pestilence.

Who knows? Maybe the mice can spread HIV. Some indication is that contagion happens through sex, particularly sex between gay men. After Frankie has gay sex twice, once with a neighbor and again with Walt, a guy he meets at a bar, played by Kristoffer Cusick, Frankie becomes nervous and perhaps feels guilty that he has perhaps gambled with his life each of these two times.

A comical moment comes with Frankie not knowing really what condoms are or how to use them. The story takes place nearly thirty years in the past and it's a wonder how naive people were. People take condoms for granted now, but not back then. It's not that Frankie is stupid or slutty. He's a regular twentysomething with a healthy appetite, but there is a slight ignorance. The awareness of the danger is present, but sometimes boys will be boys.

The movie is insulated within the gay community, so there isn't any external homophobia to contend, unlike in Johnson's previous film. There is somewhat of an internalized homophobia that arcs. At first, Frankie is told to dance like a man and not to act gay. He's told this from other gay men. Frankie's regret after his two sexual encounters speaks to that internalized homophobia.

Johnson showcases the talent of Marlowe who apparently is a dancer in real life, as well as the other male cast members, many of whom have danced on Broadway. Watching Marlowe move and express himself, as Frankie moves and expresses himself, is beautiful and graceful. It's one of the few times that Marlowe's character isn't anxious or scared but free and happy. The choreography by Sidra Bell and Johnson is excellent.

Johnson also gives moments to the other actors but hardly gives any background to their characters. Yet, their reactions to certain things in certain scenes are very informative.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language, nudity and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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