’80s AIDS Terror Is Bravely Relived in Test


Six years after his debut feature, The New Twenty, writer-director Chris Mason Johnson returns with a film that’s less polished but braver.

San Francisco, 1985: AIDS terror has everyone on edge, including Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a gay modern dancer who walks around with his Walkman at full blast — his attempt to drown out the fearful whispers he’s hearing all around him (and inside his own head). Can you get it from sweat? Are those freckles or lesions on my back? Should I take the new blood test?

Some viewers may find him too quiet a character to carry an entire film, but when Frankie, an understudy in a small dance company, is given his chance to perform, he, and Test itself, come to life.

The dance sequences (mostly all-male) are riveting, and go a long way toward articulating Frankie’s issues. Can a self-described “fairy” call himself a “man”? Is monogamy unnatural for gay men? What if I have “It”?

By movie’s end, Frankie is a lot less fearful, although I didn’t fully understand that until I saw the film a second time. The final sequence, featuring Matthew Risch as Frankie’s acerbic fellow dancer, is terrific. That’s where Johnson’s next film should start.