The TV show Looking has given us an insight into being gay in San Francisco in the 2010s, and now Test takes us back to the city as it was three decades ago, just as AIDS was emerging. Although documentaries and films such as The Normal Heart have tended to look at the advent of HIV on the entire community and the panic it caused, Test takes a smaller, more personal approach, where it hovers in the background of one man’s life.
Frankie (Scott Marlowe) is a young dancer, who’s practicing to be the understudy in a new piece. He’s heard the stories of gay men coming down with a strange illness and that there’s a new test for the disease. Slowly AIDS goes from being fairly distant to something that’s creeping ever closer to his own life, so he must decide whether to go in for the test, knowing that things he’s done could have exposed him to the virus.
While set in 1985, Test deals with issues that are still very relevant today – indeed studies show many of those who have the most reason to get an HIV test are also those most likely to avoid it, simply because they’re afraid of the results. However Test wisely avoids suggesting that gay men’s lives back then were solely about AIDS, instead painting it as something that became part of their existence and which needed to be dealt with, but wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of existence.
Indeed Frankie is just as interested in the opportunities of his dance career and fellow dancer Todd (Matthew Risch). Initially they don’t get along but a friendship soon begins to build, even though they’re very different people. They eventually begin to wonder whether they want it to develop into something more.
Initially Test feels like a pretty slight tale. It’s well acted and made, but it moves along in an amiable, watchable yet seemingly inconsequential fashion. In fact I initially wondered whether the film’s desire not to be hyperbolic about the emergence of AIDS would make the film so quiet it wouldn’t add up to anything.
However the film slowly builds up, introducing different ideas and themes that are pulled into powerful focus in the final third. What seemed slight but pleasant to watch becomes something far more interesting towards the end, especially when Frankie begins to think about what sort of man he wants to be and how AIDS is affecting gay life.
Although Test could perhaps have done with less of a sense in the first hour that we’re merely seeing some things happening, it’s never boring and in total it adds up to a pretty good movie that leaves you thinking a lot more than its initially quiet nature would make you expect.
Overall Verdict: Well-acted and made, Test may be a little too quiet for its own good in the early stages, but it builds towards a very effective and moving final third.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac