Kuso: Shock For Shock's Sake?
Review by Aaron Haughton
Kuso is the directorial debut of Steve, better known as the experimental, multi-genre electronic artist Flying Lotus, and was co-written with David Firth, the creator of Salad Fingers. The film is a a bizarro body horror comedy of Cronenbergian descent that takes place in the aftermath of an earthquake that has destroyed Los Angeles, and is told through 4 surrealist vignettes (Royal, Mr. Quiggle, Smear, and Sock), which center around the city's mutilated and grotesquely deformed survivors. It's been dubbed "the most disgusting film ever made" and spurned several walkouts when screened at Sundance. It's a body horror, so it's no doubt gross and confrontational, but is it just gross and confrontational for shock's sake?
The film's title is a reference to the term used in East Asia for the internet culture that generally includes all types of camp and parody, and in Japanese culture means "crap" or "shit" and "bullshit", and is used to describe outrageous matters and objects of poor quality. So, it's obvious that the film is off-putting and hard to watch by design, but I will say, it does get easier to digest the more the film goes on.
The first 30 minutes are difficult to sit through mostly because the stories aren't very interesting and they come across slightly tone deaf, playing a little too near the serious end of the spectrum, which conflicts with the latter portion of the film. In some instances, it does feel like shock for shock's sake, but there are also some genuinely fun and inventive moments tucked and hidden inside, however derivative they may be.
My chief complaint about the film is that the earthquake conceit wasn't very well set up or explained. If I'd not read the plot synopsis, I may've not even been aware that the film took place in the aftermath of an earthquake at all. The exposition concerning the earthquake is delivered at an astronomical rate via a frantic jazz freestyle, which will likely catch you off guard. The earthquake's destruction is never expressly seen or referenced all that much, aside from a few brief mentions, which you may not even catch if you blink or look away from the screen to vom. That aspect alone pretty much renders the film a hobbled and stitched collection of outrageous and wtf-riddled shorts, akin to Funky Forest: The First Contact, which is (surprise, surprise!) one of FlyLo's favorite films.
Without any context to the characters or events, we don't have much connection or patience to watch a woman strangle a man for his sexual pleasure, which, aside from the frantic jazz open, is basically how the film begins. Without any real set up or introduction, we're just watching a woman strangle a man with a rope for no reason, and there's really no pleasure in that (unless you're into that kinda thing) because it lacks any story, which, let's not forget, is generally the thing that compels us to visit the cineplex or put anything on the boob tube.
The film definitely suffers from some preliminary pacing and tonal issues, but once the film reaches the Mr. Quiggle segment, which features Hannibal Buress, Donnell Rawlings, and Tim Heidecker, it begins to find its own stride, opening itself up more as a surrealist comedy rather than shroud itself in the seriousness of the previous segments. It wasn't until around that time that I began to have fun watching the film. Before that point, it felt more like a laborious choir.
Despite all its flaws and grievances, there are a few morsels of enjoyment here, such as George Clinton's talking butthole worm, the avant-garde collage interludes, the film's score, its stellar D.I.Y. effects, and the post-credit spoken word delivered by the rapper Busdriver. FlyLo's influences are very apparent upon viewing (Beetlejuice, Tetsuo: The Ironman, early Cronenberg and Burton, and all things David Lynch), which end up adding to its eventual charm (however disturbing). But it also becomes very apparent that FlyLo is still floundering to find his own cinematic voice and is mainly speaking through the voices of other filmmakers.
The film is by no means excellent, but there's some redeemable value -- at least, I think -- to its existence. It's definitely not going to be for everyone, and you'll know that very early on, if you're brave enough to give it a chance. The film is currently available via Shudder, which is only $4.99/month and offers a free 7-day trial. The streaming service is highly worth it if you're an avid devourer of horror, so try it out and slip into some weird.
Rating: 2.5 talking butthole worms outta 5
What do you think? Is the film a grotesque monstrosity, or is it a stroke of genius? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comment section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!