Passing Judgment on ‘The Judgment’

"The Judgement." Photo courtesy of Reel Q.

TW: self-harm.

Mo (Junes Zahdi) must face his tragic past when he and his partner, Hisham (Freddy Shahin), travel back to Alexandria, Egypt in Marwan Mokbel’s film, “The Judgment,” which premieres tonight at the Reel Q Film Festival.

The couple both have family members in the Egyptian city, but Mo’s relationships with his relatives are strained. The only warm greeting he receives is from his bedridden grandmother (Layla Amari).

When Sara Hegazi, an Egyptian lesbian activist, commits suicide as a result of PTSD from being imprisoned and tortured for flying a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo, Mo posts a photograph of him and his boyfriend on Instagram with a rainbow filter. Hisham is outraged, fearing that his family will find out. Mo learns that Hisham still views their relationship as a sin.

Then, an ominous sound, a metallic scrapping haunts Mo. He questions his sanity. Is he being followed, or is it paranoia? A mysterious child wandering the streets in shackles stalks him. 

Mo believes his family has cursed him for being gay and the threats ramp up. Hashim convinces him he is delusional, and, possibly, mentally disturbed.

Then, his grandmother disappears from her home and the situation becomes very real for both Mo and Hashim.

“The Judgment” is a taut, suspenseful thriller about gay men trying to reconcile their homosexuality against their family’s religious beliefs. It gets intense with several jump scares, but it is artfully made.

Director of Photography, Leo Purman, infuses the film with a contrasting color palette, saffron, tangerine, bronze, and rust tones melt into dark black corners. The moon, a bright crimson circle in the Egyptian sky, is prominently featured.

Zahdi is a compelling lead. He is charismatic, charming, and handsome. The dark and brooding protagonist oozes sex appeal. Shahin is a strong costar. The two men have a potent chemistry together.

The film blurs the line between fact and fiction.  

Mokbel uses the death of Hegazi as a powerful but tragic political statement about the Egyptian government. He threads her story through the film in the background, a fierce undercurrent about the real judgment in “The Judgment.”

At the end, there is a POV shift to Samara Nohra, playing the concerned mother, she prays out loud, saying, “Make the country safe for them.”

It’s a defining moment as “The Judgment,” offers a glimmer of hope when there are still real threats for LGBTQ people all over the world.

“The Judgment” premieres tonight at 8:45 PM at the Row House Cinema. 4115 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201. For more information about the film or the festival, click below.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)