I’m not sure Harmony Korine actually knows how to make a film, though I say that with some affection. His best works consciously refuse to become movies. The Beach Bum (his masterpiece) keeps flirting with narrative, or at least trying to, while constantly drifting wonderfully in all sorts of other, trippy directions. Trash Humpers (his other masterpiece) feels like an old VHS someone found in a dead pervert’s garage sale. So it maybe makes some sense that the director claims to be tired of cinema and wants to focus on other things, as he’s repeatedly said during his press tour for Aggro Dr1ft, his night-vision hit-man movie starring Jordi Molla and Travis Scott, which just premiered at Venice Film Festival to divisive responses. Unfortunately, if Korine is in fact bored with films, he should definitely steer clear of Aggro Dr1ft, which is a unique exercise in tedium.
As has been much discussed elsewhere, Aggro Dr1ft was reportedly shot with infrared cameras and then messed with extensively in post, with A.I. utilized to create the characters’ wavering, algorithmically-inflected tattoos as well as ghostly demonic figures that appear from time to time. All this has resulted in an image that looks like a vision from a blood-soaked dream: Red skies, red walls, yellow and bluish green people, all fronting and fighting against walls of jagged, drifty techno. Shot in this way, the world loses its detail. Sky and water and concrete turn into competing beds of neon. Humans turn into raw movement, their faces expressionless blot tests.
If that sounds compelling to you, that’s because it is — for about five minutes. By the time the film’s ostensible hero, a moody, tired assassin named Bo (Molla) gets done strangling a big guy in a pool while grunting, “You piece of shit. Fuck you. Fuck you, fucker. This is what you get, pig. You dirty bastard piece of shit,” in the opening scene, you might start to feel like the film is already desperately padding itself out to qualify as a feature. The rest of the movie involves Bo getting a new assignment — some winged demon drug lord (I think?) — talking about how much he loves his wife and kids, talking about his protégé Zion (Travis Scott), and wandering around. That’s a lot of space to fill. I don’t get the sense that anyone involved in Aggro Dr1ft has ever had a normal interaction with anyone, which probably makes it hard to find things for these characters to do. (Can we even call them characters? Maybe we should call them figures.)
There’s a fundamental problem with Aggro Dr1ft, though it’s not one I suspect Korine cares all that much about. It’s almost a law of physics that bold visual experiments soon reveal why they usually remain experiments. It’s because reality — even a twisted, artfully reimagined version of reality — is often a lot more interesting, visually richer and more sonically complex, than whatever technology can throw up. Here, without anything for the viewer to latch onto, and without any real transformation, Aggro Dr1ft’s trippy, unreal images soon lose their power. Maybe the most troubling thing about this film is the gnawing sense one gets that nobody involved with it cared all that much about what was actually on screen. They’re in love with the idea more than the execution.
Movies aren’t just images or stories, they’re journeys. It’s a temporal medium that asks the viewer to sit still, at least for a little while. That’s why things like human faces gain such importance. A visual strategy that wipes out any and all detail or nuance or humanity has to find something else for us to latch onto. (In Trash Humpers, what kept us watching was the humor, as well as a queasy sense that the whole thing was ultimately an exploration of looming parental anxiety, a la Eraserhead.) And Aggro Dr1ft quite frankly doesn’t find the thing it needs to keep us watching. It doesn’t try to. I suspect it doesn’t even know what that is. Like a music video, or an art installation, two realms in which Korine has worked quite a bit, it looks cool for a few minutes. That’s about it. Eventually, the oppressive sameness of everything becomes stultifying — which to me feels like a death blow for something so self-consciously experimental and wannabe visionary.
It’s a shame because Aggro Dr1ft does occasionally throw us a surprising image. Some of these moments feel intentional. A giant demon lurking above the red skies of Miami. Jawa-like little people waving machetes around. Pool water that looks like blood as it drips off Bo’s kids. Some feel less intentional. The thermal imagery makes Travis Scott’s enormous blunt look like a dinky party horn. Sparklers shooting out of gyrating strippers look like giant farts. If the film threw more such images at us, it might have been less tedious, maybe even funny. Korine has said that he was inspired by TikTok and video games, and maybe those who spend more time in those realms will find more to enjoy here. He’s also said that he wasn’t trying to make a movie. Well, he hasn’t.
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