Aggro Dr1ft is an irritating, confrontational and dreadfully adolescent attempt at experimentia. For sadomasochists only.
A good critic will try to give Aggro Dr1ft a fair shout. We should be open to attempts at experimentation in filmmaking. Like any other language, the way we tell stories on film evolves over time. Welles and Coppola made their careers on challenging existing film form.
However, with Aggro Dr1ft, Harmony Korine is only interested in challenging his audience’s patience. Korine has played the role of enfant terrible since Gummo assaulted audiences in 1997, but this latest aggravation may well be his most irritating feature since then. Yes, even more challenging than the likes of Trash Humpers and Julien Donkey-Boy. In recent years, Korine has flirted with mainstream respectability. Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum saw him wrangle big stars (James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Matthew McConaughey) and some eye-popping camerawork, and he achieved some of the best reviews of his career as a result. With Aggro Dr1ft, Korine seeks to progress to what cameras can do next, but the results are not promising.
With no set script, or even much of a plot, the main feature (Calling it a ‘selling point’ would imply it’s something of value worth selling) of Aggro Dr1ft is its thermal imagery camerawork. The entire film is shot entirely in body heat orange and glowing blues by DoP Arnaud Potier, and it is certainly a unique viewing experience. But we must ask: what is it for? The story (Such as it is) doesn’t benefit from or require this particular technology. It serves to create imagery that a gamer who’s spent too much time playing Splinter Cell or Call of Duty might find interesting. Neon cars streak across green-blue streets, and red-bodied women dance while backgrounded by the glow of sunbeds. Once you’ve seen one masked face glowing bright red, you’ve seen them all.
The story centres on an assassin played by Jordi Mollà. Despite two children and a loving wife, his heavy slouched walk suggests a withered soul inside. In case you didn’t get this, improvised narration repeatedly tells us that this man is fed up of what he does. He feels himself becoming an evil that he did not anticipate. This point gets hammered home by images of a big CG demon that manifest whenever he’s about to make a kill. This need to literalise the point is just one aspect of a grating adolescent streak in Aggro Dr1ft. The images are often hectic and irresponsible, portraying a seedy underworld without specifying who or what made it this way. Scenes of knife fights or gangster assassinations are aimed purely at those who wish to enjoy their violence. Without a script, any image presented here is dead in a vacuum.
The thermal imaging reduces the ability to differentiate faces, meaning the womenfolk are all reduced to dancers with bouncing chests and backsides. At one point, a dancer spreads her legs and sparks emerge. Even the villain, a hulking masked man, is defined by his penchant for thrusting his hips while wielding a sword. Only the most puerile of senses of humour would find anything of value there. The most recognisable face here (mostly thanks to numerous closeups) is that of rapper Travis Scott, playing the assassin’s protegé, and presumably paying Korine back for directing one of the music videos in his feature length album advert Circus Maximus. Even if you focus to try to recognise any face, the screeching (and VERY LOUD) soundtrack will jolt you back out of coherence. The fact that the collaborative forum that Korine founded (and from which Aggro Dr1ft emerged) is called ‘EDGLRD’ speaks volumes. Only edgy posing wannabes could find value in this profoundly irritating dreck.
Aggro Dr1ft premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2023. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and discover the 2023 Venice Immersive Lineup!