Inspired by Luis Bunuel‘s absurdist masterpiece The Exterminating Angel, Joel Potrykus‘ latest film Relaxer is set very specifically in 1999 in the run up to Y2K, beginning with waster Abbie (Joshua Burge) performing some gross out challenges for his brother, the abusive (David Dalmatchian), before he leaves he sets Abbie one last challenge: Not to move from his seat until he reaches level 256 of Pacman, with a time limit of the new year. He can’t get up for toilet breaks, for food, for exercise, for anything. The rest of the film sees Abbie sat on his couch stubbornly trying to complete his challenge, as various characters visit him, trying to coax him away from the sofa.
Genuinely unpleasant in a way unlike any other film I’ve seen this year, Relaxer has all the staples of gross out comedy but without the laughs. It aspires to the apathetic, detached tone of Jim Jarmusch or Richard Linklater (the characters wouldn’t look out of place in Ghost World or Slacker) but the end result is not as engaging or funny. The surrealist, often grotesque touches often fall flat and feel more self indulgent than anything else. It’s actually pretty interminable in places, and aside from some intermittently funny dialogue this is more of an exercise in endurance. Quite a feat for a film that’s only 90 minutes long!
This is a shame because pretty much everyone commits to the premise, none more so than Burge as Abbie. He gives a brilliantly pitiful performance, dressed only in boxer shorts, with an admirable lack of vanity. Resembling a scrawny, atrophied Buster Keaton, he is a great lead character and essentially carries the film from a seated position. If he wasn’t sympathetic the film would fail completely. That it works at all is entirely due to his performance, which is simultaneously pathetic and endearing, and quite rightly earned him the best actor award at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival.
The supporting cast is also great with Dalmatchian the stand-out, playing yet another variation of undesirable character, distinct enough from those he played in The Dark Knight and Prisoners (he’s more aggressive and sadistic than either of these) but still very much a scumbag.
There’s no forward momentum to speak of, and the comedy mainly comes from the dialogue and character quirks rather than the scatological moments that just leave a nasty taste in the mouth. The ending is cathartic, and appropriately gruesome, and any film that references the final scene of The Fury (complete with orchestral score) can’t be all bad but it’s too much of a slog getting there to really relish it.
Overall though, there just isn’t enough to Relaxer to make it interesting. It’s not profound nor entertaining, and despite some funny dialogue, the strong performances are wasted on a detached hipster gross-out comedy that doesn’t contain any jokes or internal logic. It’s disturbing and unpleasant, but without much of a point.
The special features for Relaxer include a commentary from Potrykus, A series of short films and music videos directed by Potrykus, trailers and promos, behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and rehearsal footage.
On this limited edition release, Potrykus’ earlier film, Buzzard is included as a special feature. An infinitely more fun film than Relaxer, it’s full of energy and wit, despite the minuscule budget and student film aesthetic. It’s a great, biting comedy, taking aim at office banality in a similar way to Mike Judge‘s Office Space, but with an added anarchic, punk sensibility that feels more like Repo Man.
This disc also contains a director’s commentary, and production footage, deleted scenes, and a trailer. The limited edition release also comes with a booklet on the making of the film.