Review: “Judas Kiss” Brings Magical Realism to Gay Film

Charlie David and Richard Harmon 

Magical realism hits gay film!

In Judas Kiss, a new film now playing the festival circuit, a washed-up filmmaker named Zachary (Charlie David) is talked into judging the student film festival where, 15 years previously, a movie of his made a big splash — a splash that ultimately led nowhere when he squandered his early buzz with bad personal and career choices. Zachary is so disappointed in himself and his past that he’s even changed his name from “Danny Reyes.”

But the night before the festival, he meets a hot college student named Danny (Richard Harmon), and the two have a torrid one-night stand. The next day, however, Zachary discovers a very disconcerting fact: the “Danny” he slept with is also named Danny Reyes — and he shares much else with Zachary, including the fact that the short film he’s entered into the contest, Judas Kiss, is the same one Zachary entered 15 years earlier.

Could it be? Has Zachary gone back in time — or have parallel dimensions somehow intersected? More importantly, is Zachary being given a chance to “do over” the mistakes he made before?

Magical realism’s “do over” theme is obviously not a new one for film in general, but it’s completely untilled territory in GLBT cinema. Meanwhile, the number of gay films with any magical realism at all can be counted with single digits: Were the World Mine, Orlando, Gregg Araki‘s Kaboom (which is not recommended), possibly Big Eden, and a few others.

Judas Kiss is certainly earnest and well-intentioned, and surprisingly well-shot (at the University of Washington in Seattle) for such a micro-budgeted film. There’s even a touch of CGI, which looks great.

And the film includes a terrific break-out performance by Harmon, who happens to also currently be displaying his pitch-perfect “sullen, angry teen” act in the new AMC series The Killing (watch it! It’s good).

Alas, there are a couple of problems with the script here.

First, the parameters of the magic are never quite clear. Zachary hasn’t gone back in time — Zachary and Danny both exist in the present. So what happened exactly? There is some vague talk about parallel dimensions, but it’s mostly left confused.

Meanwhile, Zachary is told by a mentor, an older version of himself, that if he changes his own past, he’ll also change his future — but this confuses things further because it isn’t literally true, merely metaphorical: unlike, say, Peggy Sue Got Married or even Back to the Future, the two dimensions are completely independent here (which begs the question: how will these two people with the same name and family continue to co-exist in the same dimension anyway? The Social Security implications alone are staggering!).

In the end, the scriptwriters (Carlos Pedraza and director J.T. Tepnapa) don’t seem to have figured out the rules of their movie’s magic, which is frustrating.

Sean Paul Lockhart, right

The second problem is bigger. Once Zachary realizes what’s going on, the focus of the story suddenly bifurcates, and younger Danny weirdly becomes a POV character. Even worse, his storyline mostly deals with soap opera sub-plots that just aren’t very engaging (although they include an appealing, open-faced supporting performance by porn star Brent Corrigan acting under his real name, Sean Paul Lockhart).

Zachary’s role, meanwhile, suddenly gets reduced to mostly angrily smoking cigarettes and trying to decide if he should reveal his and Danny’s secret to the contest judges: he cheated in making the film that got him so much acclaim.

It’s a classic reviewer’s mistake to review the movie you wished the filmmakers’ had made rather than the one they actually made, but I can’t help but think Judas Kiss missed a real opportunity by short-changing the romantic subplot between the two characters. After all, there have been a zillion time travel movies, but really only in the “gay” version is it possible for one version of a person to fall in love with the other. Talk about a dramatic complication! (Should that even be called “incest,” or is it merely masturbation?)

But after that very intriguing start, this subplot goes nowhere at all.

One other comment I must make: Zachary has a line in the movie where he says to his younger self, “It’s too late to save myself,” basically admitting he’s all washed up and his life is over.

And I’m thinking, “Charlie David is 30 frickin’ years old! Even if he’s playing 35 in the film, are they really telling me his life is over at that young age?!”

Only in a gay film … only in a gay film …

Judas Kiss is flawed but its heart is in the right place. And I admit I’m openly tickled that gay cinema is finally going places, like magical realism, where few have thought to take it before.

You might also be interested in: Top 50 Favorite Gay Films.

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