Harmony Korine aims for post-cinema in a film shot using thermal imagery and without a screenplay
Dir/scr: Harmony Korine. US. 2023. 81 mins.
A melancholy assassin (Jordi Mollà) prowls Miami’s lurid underbelly and wrestles with an assortment of demons. It’s a familiar premise, given a novel flavour in Harmony Korine’s latest picture Aggro Dr1ft by the decision to shoot the film entirely using thermal imaging and to dispense with a screenplay. It is a visually arresting work – the tight, boxy aspect ratio is flooded with vivid, synthetic colours which brings a confrontational artificiality and, at times, there’s an uneasy beauty to the film. But it seems rather paradoxical that a project that attempts to be envelope-pushing in terms of the filmmaking – Korine claims he didn’t want to make a movie, but rather what comes after movies – would shackle itself to a genre as cliched and played out as the hit man flick. And that is before you get to the dispiritingly retrograde approach to the depiction of female characters.
A disjointed, incoherent structure
The first feature production from Korine’s company/collective EDGLRD, Aggro Dr1ft takes an immersive sensory approach that draws from music videos, computer games, 3D, AI and VFX to create an aesthetic that Korine has dubbed ‘Gamecore’. It is closer to the confrontational experimental fringe of Korine’s oeuvre than to the trash-pop provocations of his most recent output, Spring Breakers (2012) and The Beach Bum (2019). A work made by a director so keen to sever himself entirely from the conventions of cinema was always going to present something of a challenge when it comes to engaging an audience. And perhaps what Korine has created here is not cinema or even post-cinema, but instead a work better suited to an alternative means of consumption. A VR experience perhaps? Or a gallery installation to be wandered through (and left) at will. Certainly, as a theatrical experience, Aggro Dr1ft will likely prove to be divisive even among the more receptive and adventurous audiences on the festival circuit.
The use of thermal imagery technology is a bold decision: it’s a striking and distinctive-looking picture, with colours so saturated they practically drip off the screen and palettes that switch from throbbing magentas to angry acid yellows at whim. A layer of VFX swims in and out of view, revealing the devils and demons that lurk under the surface of this benighted underworld. But this visual approach also makes it pretty much impossible to get a sense of any performance nuance from the characters, or even to tell them apart at key moments. It doesn’t help that they all wear balaclavas.
The story is a wisp of a thing: the central character, Bo (Mollà) is the world’s greatest hitman. His life is given meaning by his two children and his voluptuous wife. The wife, while she loves the lifestyle that Bo pays for, loves her husband more. She spends the time when he is out at work sadly twerking and writhing on their bed while wearing needlessly complicated underwear.
Bo has been hired to do a high-paying hit on ‘the big man’, a monstrous, sword-brandishing giant who keeps a collection of exotic dancers in cages. But first Bo needs to spend time on his boat with a jacuzzi full of strippers and his assassin protege Zion (Travis Scott), who, it is hinted, will kill and replace him at some point in the not-so-distant future. Zion seems to be either very stoned or very stupid, or possibly both, so whether he is a credible threat to Bo’s life is debatable.
Of all Korine’s creative decisions, the least successful is the one to do away with a screenplay, leading to a disjointed, incoherent structure and requiring his largely non-professional cast to improvise their lines. This results in something that is not dialogue in the conventional sense but rather darkly ominous phrases repeated in a monotonous, nihilistic mantra until eventually the words lose meaning and it all gets rather tedious. And while there’s a sense that Korine is fully at peace with a lack of meaning in his work, it’s doubtful that he was aiming to be boring.
Production companies: EDGLRD, ICONOCLAST
International sales: CAA firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: EDGLRD, ICONOCLAST
Cinematography: Arnaud Potier
Editing: Leo Scott
Production design: Elliott Hostetter
Main cast: Jordi Molla, Travis Scott