The film, “Test,” is set in 1985 and follows a group of gay dancers at the time when the HIV blood test has just been introduced. There is confusion about this new disease and a great deal of fear about taking the test – both because of the potential results and because of the stigma attached to it.
At that time, there was even talk of quarantining gay men because so little was known about the virus. In one scene, a paranoid female dancer asks her shirtless partner to wipe off his sweat before they continue. Periodic scenes show the guys looking in the mirror, searching for signs of lesions.
The protagonist is a young dancer named Frankie, played by Scott Marlowe, who is actually a dancer (and a fine one). The other central character is the obnoxious Todd, played by Matthew Risch. The two clash and then become friends.
Besides the dance sequences choreographed by Sidra Bell, which are a lyrical expression of everyone’s feelings during that frightening time, what I enjoyed most about this movie was its refusal to resort to the dramatic despite the inherent drama in the subject matter. No one chews the scenery in this film. It’s real and understated, making it all the more impactful.
Marlowe’s face is often in close-up, and you easily see and feel his vulnerability without the need for him to “play” it.
There is one interesting sequence in which the camera cuts back and forth between the dancers on stage and Frankie, who is the ballet company’s understudy, as he practices the same choreography in the dressing room.
The film is unrated, but I suspect it would be given an R, as there are sex scenes but nothing terribly explicit. There is some nudity but nothing full frontal.
Screenwriter and director Chris Mason Johnson also depicts the difficulty that people experienced when they suddenly had to use condoms, which, as Frankie comments in one scene, seemed “antiquated.” Other characters dismiss the necessity of protection, preferring to keep their heads in the sand.
There are also some humorous moments regarding 1980’s life – the use of walkmen and audiocassettes, as well as the necessity to periodically unravel the twisted phone cord.
Among other film festival awards, “Test” won the Grand Jury Award for Best Dramatic Feature at Outfest. It’s available now on DVD and demand.