Every few years a new film comes along that challenges viewers, not necessarily in an intellectual capacity, but more in a stomach-turning kind… an endurance test, if you will. Recent years have seen the likes of Baskin, A Serbian Film or even The Green Inferno vie for the crown of “most unnerving and disgusting film ever.” Now a new upstart threatens to take over the top spot, one of the more harrowing and disparate films in recent memory, Kuso.
The brainchild of prolific musician and producer Flying Lotus (real name Steven Ellison, credited here as just “Steve”), Kuso is a difficult film to sum up, without entirely spoiling the experience. Some will find the act of spoiling to be a bit of a mercy, as there are plenty of images and acts that will send the average everyday audience member running for the hills (something that actually happened at the film’s premiere at Sundance, where twenty attendees walked out.) Usually when a fact like this gets thrown out, it seems hyperbolic, here it’s a necessary warning.After the events of a large earthquake rattles L.A., killing millions, the survivors are inexplicably afflicted with large boils. While no reason is directly given, it also seems to affect citizens in a myriad of ways. A few act upon their baser instincts, a few begin to hallucinate. By and large, the ability to make rational decisions gets thrown to the wayside. Of course, there’s no real way to tell how these people were to act if such an even hadn’t occurred.
Kuso is strung together by a series of vignettes that range from two lovers exploring the viscosity of their passion, a mother feeding her son, a disastrous trip through the woods and the weirdest doctor’s appointment you’re ever likely to experience. Each of these are then divided up further by animated “breaks.” While this may sound intentionally vague, that’s due to each piece having to be seen to be believed. A few of the shorts do feature a variety of noticeable faces, such as Hannibal Buress and George Clinton; yes, he of Parliament Funkadelic himself.
More importantly, it’s all rendered in a hundred different shades of disgusting.This is on purpose, as the film is an exercise in extremes. The more you are repulsed, the more it does its job. Push through, though, and you start to see an interesting pattern emerge. None of the shorts are without merit. Sure there is every kind of fluid thrown at the screen (most often bodily), but director “Steve” is poking and prodding at things he knows will elicit a reaction. He’s presenting actors and actions in ways most people will never see. By making them take stock in their reactions, an epiphany of sorts may come about.
The genius of the work is that it’s all in the name of artistry. You don’t have to agree with it or understand it to respect it. The feats that are thrown about have been crafted with care to the very hilt. If there was just nonsense at work, it would be closer to a garden variety Troma production: cheap and juvenile.As a result Kuso comes off as a living breathing middle finger to the types of films that make sure to play by the numbers, focused solely on accolades, profit or adoration. As an experimental film, it’s captivating, showing creative ingenuity at every turn. Underneath the grotesquerie is a pronounced skill from an artist just testing his abilities and an audience’s limits. It’s showmanship of the highest caliber.
The fact that the sum of its parts doesn’t fully add up is almost a necessary casualty. How many filmmakers can say they made a film that’s truly theirs, where no studios interfered or meddled?
Making a movie like Kuso is to invite criticism or, possibly to an extent, to dissuade it. In that way it becomes more of an experience, one where viewers push themselves to sit through the proceedings like a badge of honor. The added benefit is that they will maybe find themselves turned onto a new and daring talent, one who most likely will continue to blaze a path for years to come.
**Kuso is currently playing exclusively on Shudder.