Of the many directors to emerge during indie cinema’s heyday in the 90s, Harmony Korine probably remains the most iconoclastic. It’s not an understatement to say that his script for Larry Clark’s Kids, which he penned at age 18, is the most conventional thing in his whole filmography. Everything since — from his irreverent feature debut Gummo (which The New York Times deemed “the worst film of the year”) to the Dogme 95-certified Julien Donkey-Boy to his Jackass-like Trash Humpers to the tripped-out Florida-set heist flick Spring Breakers and bizarro Matthew McConaughey vehicle The Beach Bum — has been an experiment of one kind or another.
But the 80-minute assassin movie AGGRO DR1FT (all caps, one digit) is something else entirely. In fact, it’s not really a movie at all, but more like a cross between a movie, a video game and a flow of hallucinatory images that could play in the background of a live show by rapper Travis Scott — who co-stars here as a gun-toting, philosophizing killer surrounded by a swarm of twerking booties.
The Bottom Line
Korine calls this new style “gamecore,” which, well, why not. It certainly hasn’t been seen before in feature-length form, at least outside of a gallery. Premiering in Venice, where it played out of competition, AGGRO DR1FT (what does that even mean?) could appeal to diehard fans of the director, who are most likely in his age group (he’s 50 now). Whether or not it crosses over to the gamers, TikTokkers and technology-obsessed kids it seems to cater to is another matter. Then again, Korine isn’t trying to sell movie tickets or streaming subscriptions — he’s just making the art he always has.
The plot is actually rather movie-ish, or video game-ish, or both, following a Miami-based hitman named Bo (played by actor Jordi Mollà, also starring in Olmo Schnabel’s Venice-bound Pet Shop Days), who needs to take out an evil big boss (Joshua Tilley) before the boss gets to him first. That’s all there is to it — and even that plot doesn’t matter in a work that more or less eschews plot altogether to focus on pure visual and sonic sensations, certainly to the detriment of anyone looking for a good story.
The most important thing to note here is that AGGRO DR1FT, lensed by French cinematographer Arnaud Potier (Galveston), was shot with a process transforming every image into trippy infrared footage, like a kaleidoscope of pixelated colors. It’s as if you were watching it all from the point of view of the Predator, after the Predator took tons of MDMA and washed it down with a big cup of sizzurp.
As much as Korine mimics the aesthetic of video games, or more like video games as abstract video art, he also seems to be deliberately mocking the gamer mentality here, with Mollà’s Bo reciting a monotone voiceover where he says stuff like, “The old world is no more” or “I am a solitary hero” in the most mundane, robotic way possible. Meanwhile, Scott shows up at some point as the assassin’s greatest recruit, sitting on a yacht filled with gyrating butts and heavily armed henchman, repeating the lines: “I do. I sleep. I do. I sleep.” (It’s uncertain whether he’s trying to act like a robot or that’s just his acting.)
Even the killing scenes, for a film about a killer, are not routinely done. There’s no real suspense and the action can be both bland and exaggerated at the same time. Heads get ripped off and blood drips out like chocolate syrup. Little kids in satanic-themed streetwear wield machetes and chant: “We are the children with devil faces.” The big boss, who looks like he fell off one of the trucks in Mad Max: Fury Road, spends most of the time prancing around in his undies, dry humping everything in his path.
There are moments when AGGRO DR1FT is quite hilarious, most probably intentionaly so. Korine’s films have always had a mischievous, transgressive brand of humor, and you could read this project as a sly commentary on Miami’s billionaire boys’ club lifestyle, with most of the movie/game set in seaside mansions and pimped-out sports cars. You could also see it as a reflection on how so many Hollywood films today wind up resembling video games, and vice-versa, to the point that one bleeds into the other. Or you could simply see it as Korine — who made the project with his new collective, EDGLRD — trying new stuff out.
It’s unlikely the director really cares what you see or think, which is why AGGRO DR1FT can be both a liberating viewing experience and something of a chore to sit through. Either way, it continues to push the kinds of boundaries Korine began to push three decades ago, when he starting making movies as a misfit teenager back in New York. Whatever you do, just don’t call this new work a “movie.”