Cinema Review: Test | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 6th, 2022  

Test

Studio: Variance Films
Directed by Chris Mason Johnson

Jun 18, 2014 Web Exclusive
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As Pina Bausch once said, “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” Set against the exponentially growing AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in 1985, Chris Mason Johnson settles his eye on the intimacy of dance, the irony of the body and its treatment in dance versus sex, and the gradual paranoia of the era in his film Test.

The tension that serves as the core of Test is the irony that characters who are so rigid and careful with their bodies when dedicated to their art, dancing, can be so loose and even foolish outside of it. Frankie, who is boyishly handsome, may not be sycophantically strict with his routine and body in the same way that Nina Sayers is in Black Swan, but the meticulous care is still there nonetheless. And while he may not have sex quite as often as his “frenemy” Bill, who has started to moonlight as a prostitute, he still has unprotected sex. Nonetheless, we see rehearsal sequences in the film more than finished performances, the impression given that these dancers are constantly trying to perfect their form. There is a dichotomy created within the film, then, about the body as a temple, something that is handled with perfection and practice as such in the extended dance scenes, and the body as sexual object, that, while passionate, is not held to the same standards of care.

Writer/director Chris Mason Johnson does an impressive job mounting the film as a drama and very gradually allowing tension and paranoia to permeate the film. Rather than moralize about unsafe sex, Test works more as a portrait of a specific time period where gay men were only starting to understand the dangers of AIDS. Filling the film are news clippings and audio pieces describing the new blood test that was created, Rock Hudson’s untimely death, and the general suspicion regarding AIDS and the gay community. It may not take the same approach or perspective as How to Survive a Plague or The Normal Heart, but the quiet drama gains its powers and potency through its very quietness. It’s not shouty or preachy. Its tension and irony is exactly derived by its carefully curated and created soundscape.

The quiet quality does come at a narrative cost, for, despite the short running time, it feels as if it meanders occasionally. Certainly taking a page out of the naturalistic book from Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, it falls a little short here given that the narrative drive seems sluggish at times. It’s only around the halfway mark that the film is able to pick up its pace, or at least seem more urgent and interesting, primarily because a crucial plot point is introduced.

While Johnson veers away from dialogue heavy discussions on different ideas about dance, AIDS, sex (unlike several films of this ilk), he nonetheless is able to present something strong, a film that alternates between warm and cool when it needs to, and one that is, at times, rather mesmerizing.

www.testthefilm.com

Author rating: 7/10

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