QFest Movie Review: Judas Kiss

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Remember in The Butterfly Effect, where Ashton Kutcher traveled through time with the help of a magical notebook, and everybody was like “Magical notebook? I don’t get it.” and then watched it anyway, because we wanted to see Ashton Kutcher be all serious with a beard?

Judas Kiss is a little bit like that. There is some serious parallel universe/time traveling/changing the past/changing the future stuff happening here, but there are almost no discernible rules to govern the action or explain the phenomenon. To take another example from the film pantheon of time travel, in the Back to the Future movies Marty McFly is warned that if he meddles with the past it could cause disastrous results in the present/future. There is no such warning in Judas Kiss; Tinkering with the past is the whole point.  

But no matter. Even though you’ll scratch your head throughout wondering how and why, the movie keeps a brisk pace and the action unfolds in a way that grabs your attention and holds on to it, with only a few blips of difficulty suspending disbelief.

Zack Wells, played by Charlie David, is a chain-smoking failed filmmaker at 35 in L.A. whose successful director friend sends him back to his Alma Mater to judge a student film competition. Once there, he enters some kind of weird time warp in which he discovers that the college kid he bangs during his first night in town is actually himself as a 20-year-old (played with matching intensity and eyebrows by Richard Harmon). And that means that he’ll be judging his own student film, Judas Kiss. Wells’ former professor (“Faces and films — I remember the good ones,” she intimates) clues him into to that fact and tells him in no uncertain terms that this is his chance to rewrite his future.

As if the time-traveling wasn’t enough complication, there’s also a love triangle and some serious daddy issues thrust into the mix. The love triangle involves the domineering son of wealthy film financiers (Timo Descamps) and a sensitive, wide-eyed student filmmaker (Sean Paul Lockhart). The daddy issues… are of an unsavory stripe. There is also a minor twist dressed up as major revelation, which is introduced and discarded without much to-do.

And then there’s the film at the center of the film: Judas Kiss. This student film is the core of the whole story, because it’s what makes young Zack Wells special; if young Zack Wells isn’t special, why does the very fabric of space and time rip itself open so that old Zack can rearrange his life and tamper with the results of his film competition? If young Zack Wells isn’t special, why does the rich kid have a minor seizure after watching a stolen copy of his student film? If young Zack Wells isn’t special, why is dreamboat spectacular Brent Corrigan Chris Wachowski mooning over him so hard? If young Zack Wells isn’t special, why is his best girlfriend so wholeheartedly invested in his life to the exclusion of any reference to her own?

We do, finally, get to see snippets of the movie-within-a-movie, a squirm-inducing “show me using film art where the bad man touched you” short that indirectly provides the reason for why Zack Wells turned out to be a failure as a filmmaker. It’s just not worth all the hoopla.

That’s not why the film wants you to believe that Wells is the fallen figure we meet at the beginning of the story, however. The narrative would have you believe that Wells’ is a rehab regular who’s sold his soul and exhausted his youthful promise. He refers to himself as “a seven who can only get fives” and some college students allude to him as “that old guy,” but the actor Charlie David, with his impeccable wardrobe, break-through-glass jawline and mussed-just-so longish hair, doesn’t look like an old guy, and if he’s a mere seven on the 1-10 scale, then let’s all please explode the 1-10 scale before it’s the end of all of us.

Slight miscasting aside, Charlie David and Richard Harmon successfully carry the narrative along through its many twists and turns with steely commitment. Their scenes together bristle with tension, and it makes sense to see the universe literally ripple around them. Speaking of universe rippling, the special effects and musical score are employed with grace and precision, and the pace of the editing maintains an air of suspense throughout.

The supporting characters also gamely make their appearances, although Zack seems to be everyone’s primary concern. Timo Descamps keeps his rich kid character from one-dimensional mean girl territory and tempers his bullish tendencies with a few moments of tenderness. And as far as vulnerability goes, QFest Rising Star honoree Sean Lockhart avails himself well in a generally undemanding role that doesn’t push the limits too far from “sensitive heartthrob” territory. 

Overall, Judas Kiss is an imaginative and gripping story plopped into a murky alternate reality where just about nothing is certain, and for better or for worse, there’s no neat bow in sight to tie things together. Confounding as it is, the action — and the hook-ups! — are unrelenting, as drama and time itself both unfold to reveal the complicated mess one man can make out of a life without rules.

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