Depending on who you speak to, Aggro Dr1ft has either been a hideous blight on the fall festival circuit or… Well, currently, there’s not exactly a consensus on what there is to love about Harmony Korine’s in-your-face fantasia, a nightmare vision of Florida made all the more hellish by its refusal to resemble anything you might expect even — or perhaps especially — from the director of Spring Breakers.
Its director claims it isn’t a movie anyway, and that he doesn’t care that much for movies at all any more. But, that said, Aggro Dr1ft has a visceral effect that’s hard to shake, and its images are unexpectedly memorable, ready to loiter in your synapses until a series of Nicolas Roeg-style flashbacks brings them racing back into your mind’s eye, long after the memories of more serious art films have faded.
If there’s a story, it’s incredibly simple: In a future dystopia, the world’s best hitman, Bo (Jordi Moller), is being stalked by the world’s most dangerous psychopath, Zion (Travis Scott). You’d think there wouldn’t be that much difference between them, but Bo is a devoted family man who cares about his family and insists that his children “shouldn’t know of my violence”. He’s a philosopher and a poet, a man who laments the fact that “the old world is no more”. “There is no more time,” he ruminates in the film’s incessant voiceover, and “no more truths.”
Thoughtful assassins are a bit of thing this season, what with David Fincher’s The Killer and Richard Linklater’s Hit Man. Neither of those films, however, have antagonists that are anywhere near as basic as Zion. While Bo mulls on the meaning of good and evil, stressing that “it’s important to find the right weapon” because “the weapon is the extension of the assassin’s soul,” Zion is an enthusiastic patron of strip clubs, where he is the life and likely financier of the party, growling, “YEAH! URGH! DANCE, BITCHES!” at scantily clad women who are already dancing anyway.
Extraordinarily, this casual, ostensibly “tongue-in-cheek” sexism isn’t the main reason Korine’s film has courted such a degree of animosity over the last few weeks (to compound this, Bo’s wife mostly expresses her love for him through the medium of twerking). It’s the sensory overload that seems to be doing the trick. Filmed on heat-sensitive cameras from NASA and enhanced with strange animations that flicker like alien X-rays under the characters’ skins, Aggro Dr1ft demands that you check out of reality and into this unfathomable, ugly-beautiful, semi-cartoon limbo world — and if you don’t accept the terms of the contract, it isn’t going to work.
Korine has compared it to a video game, and he’s right, but mostly in the sense that it captures the moment when the player stops playing for a few minutes and the world of the game just seems to suspend itself without actually freezing or stopping. The propulsive electronic score by DJ/producer AraabMuzik — which Korine asked to be turned up way beyond loud at the film’s world premiere in Venice — does a lot of heavy lifting on top of these staged moments of stasis, being weirdly self-aware in its references to myriad types of genre film scores, with elaborate, Italian giallo-style music being a particular motif that seems to recur.
As a movie, it works mostly in the sense that it has a beginning, a middle and an end, with the middle being defined simply by being the bit between the opening title and the closing credits, which appear just after a surprisingly satisfying climax. For the most part, though, we’ve been here before with Korine, notably 2009’s Trash Humpers (snippets of which turn up in Bertrand Bonello’s divisive The Beast, also on the fall festival circuit) — like Trash Humpers, Aggro Dr1ft is both an endurance test and a trip, a hypnotic non-movie that nevertheless casts its own kind of spell.
In the real world, very few are likely to see it, let alone make it to the end. But for those that want to see an artist thinking out loud, it’s rare to see something so pure and aesthetically relentless, with no other intention than to get inside your head. If you let it in, it will be there forever and ever, for better or for worse.
Do you dare? You might find that it’s a risk worth taking.
Title: Aggro Dr1ft
Festival: Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness)
Director/Screenwriter: Harmony Korine
Cast: Jordi Molla, Travis Scott
Sales Agent: Edglrd
Running time: 1 hr 20