Of the many directors who emerged during the heyday of indie cinema in the 1990s, Harmony Korine remains arguably the most iconoclastic. It’s no understatement to say his script is for Larry Clark Children, which he wrote at the age of 18, is the most conventional in his entire filmography. Everything since – from his irreverent feature film debut Gummo (which The New York Times considered “the worst movie of the year”) for the Dogme 95 certified Julien Donkey Boy to his Fool-like it Garbage dumpers to the failed Florida heist movie Spring breakers and bizarre Matthew McConaughey vehicle The beach bum – has been some kind of experiment.
But the 80 minute killer movie AGGRO DR1FT (all caps, one digit) is something completely different. In fact, it’s not a movie at all, but more like a cross between a movie, a video game and a stream of hallucinatory images that could play in the background of a live show by rapper Travis Scott – who stars here as an armed, philosophizing killer surrounded by through a swarm of twerking boots.
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Korine calls this new style ‘gamecore’, and why not. It certainly hasn’t been seen in feature film form before, at least outside of a gallery. Premiered in Venice, where it played out of competition, AGGRO DR1FT (what does that even mean?) might appeal to diehard fans of the director, who are most likely in his age bracket (he’s now 50). Whether or not it crosses over to the gamers, TikTokkers and tech-obsessed kids it appears to be aimed at is another matter. On the other hand, Korine isn’t trying to sell movie tickets or streaming subscriptions; he just makes the art he always has.
The plot is actually rather movie-like, or video game-like, or both, and follows a Miami hit man named Bo (played by actor Jordi Mollà, who also stars in Olmo Schnabel’s Venice-bound Pet Shop Days), who must take down an evil big boss (Joshua Tilley) before the boss catches him first. That’s all there is to it – and not even that plot matters in a work that more or less completely eschews plot to focus on sheer visual and sonic thrills, certainly to the detriment of anyone looking for a good story .
The main thing to note here is that AGGRO DR1FT lensed by the French cameraman Arnaud Potier (Galveston), is shot with a process that converts each image into trippy infrared images, like a kaleidoscope of pixelated colors. It’s like looking at it all from the Predator’s point of view, after the Predator takes tons of MDMA and washes it down with a big head of sizzurp.
While Korine mimics the aesthetics of video games, or more of video games as abstract video art, he also seems to deliberately mock the gamer mentality here, with Mollà’s Bo reciting a monotonous voiceover saying things like, “The old world is no more” or “I am a lonely hero” in the most mundane, robotic way possible. Meanwhile, at one point, Scott appears as the assassin’s number one recruit, sitting on a yacht full of spinning butts and heavily armed henchmen, repeating the phrase, “Yes, I do.” I am sleeping. I do. I’m sleeping.” (It’s uncertain if he’s trying to act like a robot or if this is just his acting.)
Even the murder scenes are not performed routinely in a movie about a murderer. There is no real tension and the action can be boring and over the top at the same time. Heads are ripped off and blood drips out like chocolate syrup. Little kids in satanic-themed streetwear wield machetes and sing, “We are the devil-faced kids.” The big boss, who looks like he fell off one of the trucks Mad Max: Fury Roadspends most of the time jumping around in his underwear, wiping everything in his path dry.
There are times when AGGRO DR1FT is pretty hilarious, most likely intentional. Korine’s films have always had a mischievous, cross-border humor, and you could read this project as a sly commentary on the lifestyle of Miami’s billionaire boyhood club, with most of the film/game set in seaside mansions and pimped-up sports cars. You could also see it as a reflection of the fact that so many Hollywood movies today resemble video games, and vice versa, to the point that one blends into the other. Or you can simply see it as Korine – who made the project with his new collective EDGLRD – trying new things.
It’s unlikely that the director really cares what you see or think, and that’s why AGGRO DR1FT can be both a liberating viewing experience and a chore to sit through. Either way, it continues to push the kind of boundaries that Korine began to push 30 years ago, when he started making films as a maverick teenager in New York. Whatever you do, don’t call this new work “movie.”