Harmony Korine ushers in a new experimental tack with his purposefully off-putting infra-red assassin film, which attempts to gamify cinema.
In August perennial provocateur Harmony Korine announced the formation of his new multi-media company ‘EDGLRD’, described as “a design collective; it’s a creative factory; it makes movies that are not really movies, movies that are closer to video games, that sometimes are actually playable as video games”. One of the more controversial elements of the project is that Korine intends to use AI to assist in the creation of these new projects – a source of much contention for the writers and actors currently striking in Hollywood. While there’s no confirmation that his first project out of the EDGLRD gate – 80-minute infra-red nightmare Aggro Dr1ft – has been made in this manner, it is a bit curious there is no writer credited.
Set in the criminal underbelly of Miami, the plot – and I use that word very lightly – follows Bo (Jordi Mollà), an assassin who commands a small group of killers he calls “The Children of Zion”. The crown jewel of this group is, erm, Zion (Travis Scott) who he refers to as his son. Bo is apparently a dedicated family man, with a wife, a daughter and a son, whom he keeps shielded from his gruesome profession. His unique skill set has made him rich and enabled him to provide for those he loves (though he seems to spend a lot of time hanging out with strippers who he holds in contempt all the same). “I am an assassin and a father. I am a killer and a husband,” Bo monologues. “I was born to kill.” To really hammer the message home, a giant CG horned demon watches over him as he carries out his contracts, at times appearing to move in sync. But Bo doesn’t really like his job. In fact, once he settles some business, he’s out for good.
It would be foolish to deride Aggro Dr1ft for lack of narrative, as this is obviously the point. Echoing Korine’s (superior) Spring Breakers, Bo says “It’s just a game” as he prowls through the streets with a semi-automatic, face covered by a balaclava. Certainly it feels like he’s banked more than a few hours on DOOM and Hotline Miami, but Korine’s idea of what a video game is (or could potentially be) feels limited, not reaching further than a third-person shooter played with the volume turned way up. The visual and narrative innovation we see in modern video game design – from Kentucky Route Zero and Disco Elysium to Elden Ring and even Minecraft – just far outstrips what’s going on here. Aggro Dr1ft is repetitive and didactic. It’s all surface. There’s no immersion, just an onslaught of offputting visuals and noise (several people at the Venice screening got earplugs out of their bags or covered their ears) with some misogyny thrown in for good measure. There are only so many times we need to hear “Dance bitch dance. Dance for daddy” or a rant about how disgusting strippers are before it becomes a waste of everybody’s time.
In the GQ profile where he introduces EDGLRD, Korine laments his lack of interest in cinema, and his suspicion that movies are on their way out for good. With his new company he intends to create films that have interactive elements, or that can be altered by the viewer. “We’re trying to gamify movies,” he told GQ. But thinking of games only as shoot-em-ups with scantily-clad ladies and massive guns is a bit like thinking of movies only as period dramas – it’s very limited in scope. Korine’s new venture is certainly interesting, and there’s absolutely room within cinema for immersive experiences and challenging the idea of what a film has to be, but this first attempt feels curiously out of step; something that might have seemed cutting-edge a decade ago.
But it’s hard to know when to take Korine seriously. After all, this is the man who brought us people that masturbate over trash and cat-murdering pre-teens. He made Disney teens into gun-toting murderers. Perhaps Aggro Dr1ft is an elaborate experiment to see what exactly he can get away with. (I’d rather not get into the fact that ‘EDGLRD’ is almost certainly one of the names Elon Musk rejected for his Twitter rebrand.) In the same GQ profile, Korine mentions that Terrence Malick has written a beautiful script that he’s asked him to direct, and boldly, absurdly suggests “You could look at the Call of Duty trailer now, and it looks better than anything that Spielberg’s ever done.” Perhaps Aggro Dr1ft is a sincere attempt (and failure) to think outside the box, or it might just be the latest provocation in a career not lacking for them. Either way, it’s just a shame it’s not a more entertaining one.
Published 2 Sep 2023