Judas Kiss

Wolfe Video,

J.T. Tepnapa

Carlos Pedraza,
J.T. Tepnapa

Charlie David,
Richard Harmon,
Timo Descamps,
Sean Paul Lockhart,
Laura Kenny,
Dale Bowers,
Troy Fischnaller

Unrated, 94 minutes

Danny Boy
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online April, 2013

judas kiss

Ever wish you could rewind your life? What would you do if you were given a second chance? Judas Kiss, the debut feature film from director and co-writer J.T. Tepnapa, asks these questions and tries to answer them in both playful and serious ways. Judas Kiss is an implausible but interesting Twilight Zone episode, with a touch of Back To The Future.

charlie davidCharlie David (Mulligans, Dante’s Cove) stars as Zachary Wells. Zach was once a rising star. He won the top award at the Keystone Film Festival when he was only a film school sophomore. But… too much, too soon. Now Zach is 35 and shoots wedding videos. He describes his failed Hollywood career as “parties and rehab.” He is so ashamed of himself, and his past, that he even changed his name. His best pal (lover? the film isn’t clear) is Topher (Troy Fischnaller). Topher has a career and is leaving to shoot his new film. He needs Zach to fill in for him as a judge at the Keystone Film Festival. All you have to do, he says, is interview a few students and watch their movies. Zach, with reluctance, agrees.

Coming back to the Keystone campus feels like returning to the scene of the crime. Too many bad memories, a dream unfulfilled and a life wasted. It all began here. Matters aren’t helped when he learns that his lodgings are in a student dorm. “You must have pissed someone off,” offers the elderly gatekeeper. Leaving a communal shower, he overhears one student ask another: “Hey, who’s the old dude?” He is also given a pile of homework – a stack of videos to watch - by the festival’s coordinator. She, of course, remembers Zach and the competition he won. Her demeanor towards him is a mix of disapproval and sadness.

Zach checks out a local gay bar and notices a young man (Richard Harmon) who is dancing and staring at him. Zach puts his drink down and gets up. The young lad follows and, once they are alone, pounces on Zach. They kiss and, for a moment, they are diffused by a bright glow. Their hot one night stand lasts barely a minute of screen time before we watch the young man exit while Zach sleeps.

Hung over and barely awake, Zach sits on the judging panel the next day to interview the young filmmakers. Then, he gets the shock of his life when last night’s trick is amongst the finalists. This situation is already awkward enough to fuel a movie, but then he gets another jolt when he learns that the kid’s name is Danny Reyes. “That’s impossible,” he shouts, “You can't be Danny Reyes,” and storms out of the auditorium.

He thinks that Topher is playing a joke on him. While Zak tries to call him on his cellphone, the old gatekeeper turns up, bums a cigarette, and asks what’s wrong. Zach explains that his name was Danny Reyes when he attended school here and won the award. Not only does this kid claim to be him - his film, Judas Kiss, is the same film that he submitted fifteen years ago. The gatekeeper offers no explanations, but suggests that maybe he is being given a second chance to fix his life.

Zach would like to believe that he is being given a second chance, but is naturally skeptical. It is also painful for Zach to recognize himself in Danny. Danny is like he was; cocky, arrogant, and the talented director of a masterful short that blows everyone away. He’s on top of the world. He is also about to be led astray - like Dorian Gray by Lord Henry - by an older, charismatic student who will control him, introduce him to hard drugs, and ruin his life.

Judas Kiss falls into a genre known as Magical Realism where the improbable happens within all the trappings of traditional realism. It’s a device more commonly used on stage, like all the fantasy elements in Tony Kushner's Angels in America. As far as the movies go, Magical Realism is more prevalent in European cinema than it is here in the States (many films by Ingmar Bergman come to mind). However, two other queer examples that I can think of are Rob Williams' Back Soon and Tom Gustafson's Were The World Mine

Movies are about suspending belief and this one is a perfect example. Zach hasn’t travelled back in time so whatever it is that has happened to him remains a complete mystery. Aside from a few suggestions about "alternate universes," there is no attempt to explain what has happened. Is the young man really his younger self? Why are they together in the present day rather than in the past? If the young Danny doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, will that change Zach’s past?  The puzzle doesn’t seem to have a solution, and I don’t think there is meant to be one. The story that unfolds is, for the most part, well told and so all we can do is just go with the flow. Enjoy it as a queer Twilight Zone episode if that helps.

I was entertained by Judas Kiss, but I also found it lacking. No matter how much you suspend belief, the film still makes little logical sense. If Danny is Zack, why doesn’t Zach immediately recognize his past self? Do they look different? (They certainly don’t look alike to me.) The filmmakers also missed a great opportunity. While there is more than enough third act drama (and some of it is excellent), Judas Kiss could have also sailed into some uncharted waters and explored a "first" for queer cinema. If Danny really is Zach, then Zach had sex with himself as a young man and this mind-boggling concept is never even brought up as the film continues. Out author David Gerrold’s 1974 science fiction novel, The Man Who Folded Himself, featured a time travelling protagonist who has sex with another version of himself, and his complicated, emotional response is a major part of the tale. In Judas Kiss, a man has sex with himself and it’s never even mentioned again! Because of this, the film doesn’t reach its full potential and the audience is cheated out of what could have been some thermonuclear drama. Or some great comedy.

But, despite flaws, Judas Kiss is what it is, and it’s a watchable and well crafted indie. It is nicely filmed and acted. Younger viewers might be more attracted towards Richard Harmon but I thought Charlie David looked great with longer hair, a stubble beard and glasses. He was handsome in a scruffy-student-nerdy kind of way. The only thing that distracted me was his smoking… you could tell sometimes from the way that he held the cigarette that he is so not a smoker. David gives one of his best performances in Judas Kiss, but Harmon's intensity often takes center stage. Check out the sensitive portrayal of the young Topher by Sean Paul Lockhart. I was surprised to learn that Lockhart is also porn star Brent Corrigan - I hope he gets to enjoy a second career as a serious actor.`

Quick postscript. I'm a little late getting to this film, but I'm glad I finally watched it. I discovered, on Facebook, that the director, J.T. Tepnapa, is currently filming a thriller called The Dark Place, and Sean Paul Lockhart is listed at the top of the cast on I'm looking forward to it.


Charlie David also appears in:
A Four Letter Word

Sean Paul Lockhart also appears in:
Triple Crossed
As Brent Corrigan:
The Big Gay Musical
Another Gay Sequel