Main cast: Aj Knight (Jordan), Gregory Shelby (Eli), Kelsey Boze (Lindsey), Megan Hensley (Kara), Deborah Venegas (Ascencion), Deanna Fleysher (Pamela), and Alexandrea Owens (Blanca)
Directors: John C Clark and Brie Williams
A Closer Walk with Thee markets itself as a “subversive queer horror comedy”, but I don’t see any comedy here and there isn’t also much horror at all. That is, unless we are talking about the comedy or horror that can found in bad acting. This is a super low-budget movie with amateurish acting from every cast member, but still, it tries to do something that would have been interesting if the people behind this movie had been more competent.
Eli is an Evangelical pastor’s son, and he currently leads a mission in a poor Latin-American community in East LA. With him are Jordan, a wide-eyed and so innocent-looking kid as well as Lindsey, whom Eli intends to marry one day, and Kara, who comes from a wealthy family and is spooked by the crime and poverty around her. Apart from the occasional local getting possessed by demons and needing exorcism, though, all seems well. Sure, some of the local gangsters are not happy that these do-gooders are sheltering abused wives and what not, but God is on their side, woo-hoo.
The thing is, Jordan has a crush on Eli. That’s a no-no if you believe in Jesus, so he tries to hide his forbidden desires. Eli doesn’t make it easy for him, however, as the handsome fellow considers Jordan his best friend and has no qualms doing manly stuff like grabbing Jordan playfully in his arms for some friendly wrestling or having Jordan hold the wood panel while he stands up a ladder to hammer the panel to the wall, giving Jordan a clear view of the treasure trail along his stomach down to his… uh, where was I again? Oh yes. When the others discover Jordan’s crush, that’s when Jordan conveniently gets possessed by a horny demon and requires some heavy-duty exorcism from Eli.
The story is easily the best thing about this movie. It allows for plenty of interpretations. Is Eli deliberately encouraging Jordan’s infatuation by making oddly flirtatious remarks and overtures at times, maybe as part of him just being nice and currying people’s affections as part of his job? He has no intention of cashing in the check, after all. At the same time, this is also someone who insists that Jordan remain by his side when that man wants to leave. Eli is also adamant about continuing to share a bed with Jordan (since it will not do for members of the opposite sex to sleep in the same bed after all) after Jordan was already possessed once by a demon – he could surely sleep in a couch, after all. Eli also seems genuinely happy when he thinks that he has successfully exorcised Jordan and that his best friend is back.
More interestingly, Eli is buckling under the pressure of living up to his father’s expectations, and he seems to be most relaxed and himself when he is around the other guy. Another intriguing aspect is how, when he thinks that it’s just him and demon-possessed Jordan in the same room, he behaves aggressively in a way that is almost sexual, including uttering coarse threats and vulgar homophobic slurs to the other person. The nice guy can have a dark and vicious streak… interesting.
Jordan is a bit more obvious as a character. One can argue that maybe he turns into a horny gay dude after he gets possessed, but come on, who buys that other than Christians who still believe in conversion camps. This movie wants me to think that the demonic possession stunt may actually be just Jordan’s acting out due in an effort to keep Eli from viewing him as a monster. It’s also his way to have Eli keep paying attention to him once the awkward truth about his feelings for the other man is out. However, by the time the movie ends, Jordan’s whole story turns out be a darker one – much darker.
Still, for folks who don’t want to think so much while watching a movie, there is still good news: both actors playing Eli and Jordan are easy on the eyes, and I personally have a soft spot in my heart for hot religious men, so the sight of Eli walking around often in tight white shirts make me feel that it’s time I scrutinize the Bible more often. Despite their clunky acting, both actors seem to have good chemistry together, and some of their scenes – such as the one where Eli insists that Jordan share every detail about his feelings for Eli – can easily be lead-in scenes for a more pornographic type of film.
Seriously, it’s a shame that A Closer Walk with Thee is what it is: a low-budget film with clunky acting. If it had had a better cast, this might have been a compelling emotional thriller. That or it could go the artistic porn route with the current cast, I’d be fine with that too because the scenery really is pretty here. At any rate, I think this movie is worth a look. Even if the story or acting ends up being not one’s cup of tea, one can always skip to the more homoerotic moments and sigh wistfully about what this movie could have been.