A sequel to last year’s “The Falls,” returning writer-director Jon Garcia’s “The Falls: Testament of Love” actually jumps forward five years to reunite the two young Mormon men who came out by finding each other in the first film. It’s a most awkward reunion, as one has cut off contact with the other and forced himself into a church-accepted heterosexual life. Once again, understatement is a strength here, but the pic too often seems plodding and undercooked. The first film lost 15 minutes or so between the gay fest circuit and home-format release, something that “Testament” could benefit from as well. It opens on one Los Angeles screen Nov. 8.
“The Falls” ended with 20-year-old protags Chris (Benjamin Farmer) and RJ (Nick Ferrucci) being sent home from their missionary service in Oregon after being discovered in bed together. We soon discover they subsequently went on a long car trip (partly inspired by Rodney, a military veteran they’d befriended while out proselytizing) and planned to spend their future together as a couple after breaking the news to their families. But Chris never returned from that last mission, cutting off all contact with RJ. What’s more, he underwent “reparative therapy” for homosexuality, then married Emily (Hannah Barefoot), with whom he now has a 3-year-old daughter.
RJ, too, has tried to move on, now in a serious relationship with Paul (Thomas Stroppel). But he’s never gotten over Chris, and after the two finally see each other again at Rodney’s funeral, RJ impulsively drives from Seattle to Salt Lake City to confront his ex. It doesn’t take long for Chris’ resistance to crumble, causing seismic damage to all parties concerned, including Chris’ variably accepting parents and siblings.
To his credit, Garcia tries to give everyone here a fair shake, refusing to caricature characters as simple homophobes or anything else. Nor does the pic dismiss or downplay religious belief, which its principals maintain even in the face of official LDS Church disapproval. Plotting is always credible, at least until a late moment when RJ decides to cause a semi-public ruckus that makes no sense whatsoever.
But the pacing is so sluggish that individual scenes often feel like awkward dress rehearsals. And while budgetary limitations are no doubt a factor again (the original film cost $7,000), there’s so little attempt at being cinematic that when we get a rare sequence actually driven by visuals rather than dialogue — notably a scene cross-cutting between male physical intimacy and Emily receiving a church honor — the effect is downright jarring. There can be a fine line between deliberately minimalist style and simple lack of technical expertise (or imagination), one that “Testament” discomfitingly straddles throughout. Trimming by as much as half an hour would certainly close the gap between good intentions and too much dead air.
As with the prior pic, the leads are decent, supporting thesps uneven; packaging is adequate. The door is left wide-open for another sequel, with myriad issues left unresolved. Online screener reviewed lacked a final sound mix and end credits, and featured two opening titles: “The Falls II,” and several minutes later “The Falls: Testament of Love.”