Movie Review: “Test” Is An Alarming Movie About AIDS in the 1980s


Review by James McDonald

Frankie confronts the challenges of being an understudy in a modern dance company as he embarks on a budding relationship with Todd, a veteran dancer in the same company and the bad boy to Frankie’s innocent.

The world was thrown into a panic in the 1980s when the word AIDS crept into the English vocabulary. Actor and silver screen heart-throb Rock Hudson died from the disease in 1985 and it is that time frame that “Test” takes place. Set in San Francisco, the film follows twenty-something Frankie (Scott Marlowe), a young gay and talented ballet dancer.

He is part of a troupe who are performing in the McManus Ballet and he is one of the back-up dancers. Frankie rehearses and trains at the dance studio and on his way home every day, he begins seeing posters about AIDS and signs to look for if you think you have the disease and what to do if you suspect you might have it. As he searches his body daily for legions and rashes, he and his gay friends begin to hear on the news, the many different ailments and prominent physical expressions that are typically associated with the infection.

While rehearsing in the studio one day, his friend Todd (Matthew Risch) has the onset of a cold and one of the girls refuses to dance with him because, as she informs everyone around her, flu-like symptoms are common amongst people with AIDS. Today, anybody in their right mind wouldn’t dare make that kind of accusation but back then, nobody knew what was true and what wasn’t and it was this sort of mass hysteria that the whole world fell into.

Frankie doesn’t have a steady relationship, instead, he prefers to keep his liaisons casual. With the news and media constantly addressing the situation, especially after the death of Rock Hudson who contracted the disease as a direct result of unprotected sex with other men, he gradually slows down on his sexual escapades. Soon after, it is announced that a test is readily available that will inform you whether you have the illness or not. Initially, Frankie is very apprehensive but eventually acquiesces and after his doctor performs the test, he tells him it will take several weeks for the results to come back.

It was during this segment of the movie, that I found myself waiting and waiting, along with Frankie, for the day when he would finally learn, one way or the other, if he had AIDS or not. The troubling news that one of his previous sexual partners was just diagnosed HIV positive, doesn’t help matters. Frankie tries to get on with his life the best he can but we can tell that underneath his calm exterior, he is slowly losing his mind.

“Test” is a movie that takes its time revealing the story and the characters within. Scott Marlowe as Frankie gives a very nuanced performance as a man who really loves life and is afraid that, worst case scenario, he will have to leave it and he constantly relates to what’s going on around him on the most basic human level.

In today’s world, the word AIDS is spoken by everyone without even a hint of hesitation but back in 1985, simply shaking hands with someone who was known to have the disease, would send most people to the bathroom so they could wash their hands, secretly and thoroughly. The movie successfully recreates the panic and fear that slowly infiltrated the world at a time when nobody knew anything about one of the biggest killers the world has ever known.

In select theaters now


James McDonald
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