Fantasia 2017 Review: ASSHOLES Is The Goatse Of Cinema

All the substance of a shock site, and about as much style too.

Nothing about microbudget or no-budget films dictates that they're inferior to more expensive productions. Imagination costs nothing, and with the right blend of creative and budget-conscious filmmaking, it's entirely possible to make a movie on the cheap that doesn't feel compromised. 

Of course, the ideas and storytelling sensibilities have to be there as well. Without them, you get a movie like Assholes: a ponderous, shrill drag whose mission to shock and disgust becomes duller with each repetitive attempt.

On paper, Assholes sounds like a gross, weirdo relationship movie I would dig. It follows young wastrels Adah and Aaron, recovering addicts who fall in love over a shared disaffection for the world and a mutual obsession with buttholes. Together, they embark on a lengthy, herpes-riddled poppers binge, ruining each other's anuses, conjuring up a shit demon, and plotting to kill Adah's brother. There's a lot to digest in there, and it's definitely not a story for everyone. But whatever your cinematic constitution, the execution is shallow and amateurish, with missed opportunities at every turn.

This kind of movie is often kind of a one-trick pony, and Assholes is no exception. It’s about popper junkies and assholes, and it essentially pokes around those two subjects for 75 interminable minutes without ever going into much depth (so to speak). There’s definitely something interesting in a relationship revolving around an asshole obsession (hell, Wetlands did it a few years back), but none of that makes it into Assholes. There’s a ton of easy gags and momentarily shocking nudity, but there’s nothing underneath the events that take place. While it’s quite a thing when Adah excretes a demon during a fisting session, the demon in question is merely another annoying figure to hate, barely factoring into the story at all. By the time the final act launches into a tired reality-TV format, there’s nothing left for Assholes to say. That the central characters themselves turn into giant sphincters should say something profound; instead, it’s just a thing that happens - just like everything else.

If the actors could sell Assholes’ assholes, there might be something in it. But they can’t; like an amateur improv troupe, they mumblecore their way through the film as if they’ve never been on camera before, their overacting betraying a lack of focus and substance. They’re in on the joke and can’t cover it up; only one performance even feels internally consistent. The film's central setpiece of its leads wreaking havoc in Times Square does sport a certain anarchic energy, but as it drags on and on, it takes on the air of a YouTube prank video made by, well, assholes. So maybe there’s some levels at play here. They don't work.

It also doesn’t help that the movie looks ugly, and not even the kind of ugly this type of movie should look. It’s garishly overlit, sporting the kind of flat, clean digital crispness that DSLRs have made all too common in recent years. Added to that is art direction mostly based around hanging artworks on plain white walls, and shot choices that draw attention to all the wrong scene elements. This isn’t a lo-fi aesthetic; it’s DSLR chic without any visual sensibility.

There’s a version of this movie that actually connects its various stray thoughts together, rising above its low production value to become something greater. Even in the existing version, there are a few moments of inspiration - a jump scare calling to mind early ‘00s viral memes, a staggeringly confident monologue about assholes, some delightfully gross herpes makeout scenes, prosthetic makeup applied to one particularly game actor’s actual penis - but unlike the characters' cold sores, they're few and far between. There’s an Assholes in a parallel universe where the moments of “hey, this seems like a good idea” fit together as if they were actually planned. But we do not live in that universe.

Fittingly, Assholes could have been a tight little short film, but it’s been stretched out past its breaking point, becoming a loose, sagging feature whose only use is morbid curiosity. In my years running a 48-hour filmmaking competition, I’ve seen many films like it - but they were conceived and made in a single weekend, almost all because the team got high and thought the idea sounded funny. There’s nothing wrong with that - but as proven by multiple trash auteurs decades ago, there’s gotta be heart behind the crazy. You could peer into Assholes all day and you’d never find a heart in there. Only boring noise. And shit.

Related Articles

Comments