In an interview with Huffington Post in 2014, Sal Bardo described his 2013 film “Chaser” as “bringing the practice of bug chasing to the big screen.” Sal added “I had encountered young men who were seeking to have unprotected sex with the objective of being infected with HIV, so it was something I was simultaneously intrigued by and a little disturbed by.” I personally thought the film was very well done, it was creative and it embraced barebacking in the gay community, but I don’t think this film delved deep enough into the practice of bug chasing that was described in the interview. On the surface, it was more about barebacking and accepting the risks and consequences that come with having anonymous unprotected sex.

Zach and Sarah
Photo: Zach and Sarah / © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing

I can see the approach the producer took with “Chaser” and it was one he explored with a character named Zach who felt unloved, and alone, even though he lived in New York City and was surrounded by millions of people. The film used the main character’s state of mind to put him into risky sexual situations. This could be construed as being bug chasing, but the character’s mindset did not seem to be focused exclusively on bug chasing, he just seemed to experience a close physical connection with someone else, which he chose to fulfil through barebacking. The film scratched the surface in terms of bug chasing, but the element of bug chasing was too subtle for me to believe this is what the film was completely about.

It’s not until you dig a little deeper that you discover there are some bug chasing elements in the film. The quote “the urge for destruction is also a creative one” came up during a classroom discussion, along with a reference to suicide. This was closely followed by comments about the feeling of relief afterwards. There was also a reference to a story where the character “wants something, but he’s afraid to act.” I believe these are all references to the character wanting something undefined, but the film wants you, the viewer, to put all the pieces together. This is a smart way of exploring the issue of bug chasing with a mainstream audience, because the general viewer might not fully understand what’s happening, but anyone on the bug chasing path might.

The ‘Breeding Ground’ Party
Photo: The ‘Breeding Ground’ Party / © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing

The fourth rule at the “Breeding Ground” party made it clear guests were not permitted to use condoms. I do know that some people associate “breeding” with bug chasing, but breeding is more about the exchange of bodily fluids rather than a virus. I don’t think participants at barebacking parties go there for the specific purpose of becoming infected with HIV, although this was possibly what was happening back in 2012 when this film was produced (it was released in January 2013). I can see where the film was going, but it dealt with the subject indirectly, rather than head-on. I still highly recommend the film based on the quality of the story, the strong performances and the high production values, but just be aware you aren’t going to see or hear any of the characters saying they want to get infected with HIV, it’s more a consequence about what could happen.

I do think the film identified a few bug chasing traits involving the community connection. The central character felt disconnected from his family and also from the students at the high school where he worked as a teacher. Not feeling loved or cared about by his family and not being appreciated by his students left Zach feeling alone, so he felt comfort in those around him and those closest to him ended up being gay men at a bareback sex party. I found the story was very realistic in terms of the barebacking community, but I think there might be some confusion where people believe the bareback community is entirely a bug chasing community. There is a difference between barebackers and bug chasers. A small percentage of barebackers are bug chasers, but a large percentage of bug chasers are barebackers.

Zach at the ‘Breeding Ground’ Party
Photo: Zach at the ‘Breeding Ground’ Party / © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing

I do feel as though the film considered barebacking to be bug chasing and I believe this has to do with the risks involved in barebacking at the time this short film was produced, where people felt as though anyone who had unprotected sex was either going to become HIV-positive or wanted to become HIV-positive. This could be the result of PrEP not being available when the film was produced, which made barebacking risky at the time and it could be due to this that bug chasing was associated with barebacking. This is why it’s important for viewers to consider the time period when film was produced to fully understand what was happening. I do believe Zach was chasing something, but I don’t believe it was HIV, I believe he was chasing love and acceptance and he may have reached that towards the end of the film with Ian. We won’t know, because the story remained open-ended, which leaves us to make up our own minds about what we think happened, but I do have my own thoughts.

The story left some unanswered questions, which is a filming style I’m not a fan of, as my personality feels more comfortable knowing exactly what happens at the end, so things are all wrapped up nicely. This is just my preference and like everything in life, we each like different things, so some may have loved the ending. I actually want to talk more about the ending, but it will spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it yet, so I’m not going to elaborate any further within this article. I just didn’t think the focus of this film was about a young man who was seeking to have unprotected sex with the sole objective of being infected with HIV, I think it was more about a young man having unprotected sex to feel closer to those around him.

Chaser Movie Cover
Photo: Chaser Movie Cover / © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing
Watch: Chaser Trailer / © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing

“Chaser” is available to rent from Vimeo or you can choose to stream or download the film at TLA video by following the links below. These links are not an affiliate links, they are only provided here to enrich your experience and as a convenience.

Vimeo – $1.99 – 24 hours – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/chaser/88996790

TLA Video – $2.99 / 48 hours | $6.99 / Stream for Life | $8.99 / Download – https://www.tlavideo.com/videos/1945770/chaser

Further Reading:

Featured Photo: © Bardo Films/Always Rhysing
Article ID: CC018
Version Control: 1.0 – November 12, 2021: Original article published.

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Will

I think the film’s title “Chaser” is referring to the main character’s pursuit of raw sex — perhaps love — and not necessarily the bug. Some guys just get wildly turned on by the thought of having a dominant hung man fuck their hole raw, with one key part of that thrill being the risk of catching HIV. The danger is what makes it so exhilarating in a way. And to be bent over naked with a line of hot guys waiting their turn to bareback your hole and flood it with various strains of semen is, for me, the ultimate turn-on. If one or more pass on the virus, so be it. To me that’s not Zach’s goal here. He just craves — chases as it were — big raw dick in his hot bubble ass. Whether it’s in a men’s room at a gay bar, in a remote corner of a subway station or at a condom-free sex party. I think you’re overthinking the title here, he can’t get enough. Zach loves cock, he keeps his body in shape to make himself more attractive to lure those cocks into his hole, and if he finds love along the way, so be it. All the better, but he’ll never be monogamous. He is addicted to raw dick — neg, poz or undetectable. So am I. Lol

NS2021

Jason, as expected: one hell of a great review article on this short movie and I do personally thank you for this one … you know why by now.
I do agree the movie does explore the dangers and the intensities of bareback sex and risky sexual behaviors, in a time in which PreP was not necessarily there. Also, the debate and discussion surrounding bugchasing was not as loud as it can be today specially with a platform like your website, however despite the title, whatever Zach is searching for or in other words, whatever Zach is chasing … it comes down to another issue we don’t quite approach with honesty and bravura: love. How much we need it? Why do we need it? Why isn’t it there in our lives? Why don’t we talk about it? But these questions lead to a completely different discussion, which is not really what we’re here for.
Chasing affection and love here does come in the shape of seeking promiscuous sex and putting ourselves in risky sexual behavior as it serves as an escapism to any issue or problem we may be facing in our real life. In his case, the dysfunctional relationship with his family and his lack of commitment towards his own teaching are the basis for his seek of such type of intense environment as it allows him to be away from the real world for some moments … and whether we like it or not, we have all been there. In many ways bugchasing could be included in this need for escapism for anyone who seeks the same escapism that Zach seeks in the money. Maybe wanting to become HIV+ and feeling such urge to be seroconverted is part of a package of this nature. It’s a way to color our lives in a way that gives you a reason to live life totally different. This may be me being a bit too psychological, but it would not be honest if we didn’t acknowledge the connection between the sexual desire we have inside and the need to be away from reality. This is what I strongly feel with this movie. Zach could be anyone of us … maybe Zach is me, who knows. As a pervert, I would envy him having such careless unprotected and being exposed to the virus (look at the guys who are fucking him …. Treasure Island Media guys-look-a-like?) … As a human being, I feel for Zach and I can relate myself to him. And, we probably feel the same for him.
The end of the movie? For me there is no end because possibly, he will keep on chasing risky sex to escape reality … or maybe he found love that same night … or at least the hope that there is room for love and for him to be loved in this life, even if he risks his life sexually and becomes HIV+ … there is room for love.

Eric

I loved this film. The guy is wicked hot lol. But for so many other reasons too.

NS2021

The actor is really drop dead gorgeous. In reality, a story like this would probably not occur with someone with such appearance and one fine piece of ass LOL. Sadly, we associate this sort of turmoil and desperation with someone who has incredibly low self-esteem and doesn’t seem to appreciate both his outside look and his own character. So, to hide from such personal pain, using anonymous promiscuous sex becomes an escapism tool. Zack seeks affection and love … while putting himself in the risk or getting any STI … but maybe if he gets it, he will free himself from some of that turmoil and seeking for love will no longer be a painful experience. There is so much to unwrap here, that even the producers and makers of the movie might have not even considered back then.

Tom

Excellent comments from both of you and it is good to remember too that not only was PrEP not widely used at the time of this film but it was not widely known that undetectable was untransmissible ( I think only one study had been concluded in 2011) and the accepted count on that study was I think 40, not the 200 accepted today. I agree that Zach does seem to be chasing love as much as he is chasing conversion to hiv positive. Indeed the conclusion I seem to draw from the film is that he will only find complete love if he accepts the fact it is likely to come with the risk of conversion. Once he accepts the pain of that he can relax and find real love with one or many. All that said, the lead does have a great ass and would probably find no shortage of men to assist him in his chase not just Ian. Your observations of the fact that when he returns to the outside world, it is still cold and unwelcoming made me think but I do remember that he looks again at Ian’s telephone number and has hope (and that great ass!)