When news of Judas Kiss started making the rounds, one could have been forgiven for expecting a lot of flesh and very little story. Starring Sean Paul Lockhart (porn star Brent Corrigan), Charlie David (Dante's Cove), Timo Descamps (Belgian TV and popstar), and Richard Harmon (Tower Prep, The Killing), you had a list of names who were perhaps best known for their physical attributes.
Which is partly what makes this ambitious movie about second chances and missed opportunities so charming. While the stars are undeniably good looking, they stay largely clothed throughout the movie, and while Harmon, the only heterosexual actor in the bunch, gets to bed both David and Lockhart, it's directly related to the story and not at all salacious.
The movie starts with Zachary (David) at a fabulous party with his oldest friend Chris, hitting on the latest pretty thing in Hollywood and being shot down. To cheer him up, his friend asks him to take his place judging a prestigious film competition at their alma mater, where David burned bright as a promising filmmaker before becoming more famous for his stints in rehab.
Upon arrival at the school, Zachary is directed by an oddly welcoming gate guard to a student dorm, which is all too familiar. He seeks escape in the local gay bar, where he is quickly seduced by Danny (Harmon), whose picture is in the dictionary beside "bedroom eyes." Waking late, he's late for his briefing on the festival with his old professor, which makes him feel like he's back in school again.
When his trick walks onstage for his interview and is introduced as Danny Reyes, with his film Judas Kiss, it's too much for Zachary. He is Danny Reyes - or he was, before he sold his soul for a scholarship he won with his film Judas Kiss. (Which begs the question, was the hookup sex or just masturbation?)
What begins playing out is a Dickensian tale of redemption, with older Danny/Zachary coming to terms with the mistakes he made as young Danny, choosing rich, powerful Shane Lyons (Timo Descamps) over earnest Chris (Lockhart) to be a hit and get away from his father.
Playing the role of the Ghost of Christmas past, Lockhart is shockingly open and innocent as Chris, carrying the knowledge of how Shane toys with his boy-of-the-moment, as he was the last one. The transition from adult films to mainstream fare is uncharted territory for gay porn stars, but Lockhart is excellent in the role, earning him a Rising Star Award at the upcoming QFest in Philadelphia. He truly cares about Danny, a fact not lost on Timo during filming.
We were all great friends on the set, but kissing with them really messed with my head! Richard is straight, Sean has a boyfriend and I'm madly in love with mine. But when I saw Richard and Sean kiss -- my "boys" in the movie -- I actually got jealous!
A plot point reveals the Ghost of Christmas Future to Danny/Zachary, breaking through enough to force him to take action to change his past, and hopefully his future. But will his younger self be smart enough to take advantage of what appears to be a lost opportunity?
The movie turns on small points, with larger expressions of emotions used to convey the status quo rather than breakthroughs. How young Danny and older Danny/Zachary exist together in the magic of school is never explained, nor is whether Chris was behind the entire second chance to begin with. By leaving some mysteries unspoken, the movie is able to avoid large bits of exposition and focus on the characters' journey and relationships.
Judas Kiss is not your typical queer movie, and it has roots in some classic tales, but with a gay sensibility. The production values are worthy of a studio film, with lush cinematography taking advantage of the lovely filming locale at the University of Washington in Seattle.
You can catch Judas Kiss at QFest in Philadelphia July 7 as the opening feature, and at NewFest July 24 and July 26, or find out when it's coming to your town here.
(Images courtesy of Carlos Pedraza at Judas Kiss)