Steven “Flying Lotus” Ellison delivers a cavalcade of filthy sketches, each sicker than the last, but the cumulative effect of all the hilarious, shit-stained antics is cathartic – moving even
“The grossest film ever made” screamed the hysterical headlines from Sundance when Steve Ellison – best known to the world as electronic music genius Flying Lotus – delivered his debut feature, titled Kuso, on the world back in January. It’s easy to see why it had some critics clutching their pearls. No idea is too grotesque in this scrappy portmanteau movie, in which a succession of scatalogical and sex-obsessed sketches, each more outrageous than the last, spills forth from a post-apocalyptic LA where a massive earthquake has left the city in ruin and its residence in dermatological distress.
Pus oozes from the sores that cover the faces of the characters in Kuso, but there are plenty more bodily secretions on screen. For example, an abused man-child whose mother force-feeds him finds solace (and perhaps a father figure) by feeding his own faeces to a sphincter-like creature who lives in the woods. In another part of town, a man has his phobia for breasts cured by supping the suppurations from a jack russell-sized cockroach named Mr. Quiggle. Quiggle dispenses medical treatments from the rim of the doctor’s rectum, in which it seems to reside. This, remarkably, isn’t the sickest moment in the film, not by half.
These trips to the surreal are more Ren & Stimpy than Eraserhead, designed to make you laugh out loud rather than freak out, although beneath the teenage humour, if you really look hard enough, there is evidence of melancholy. Half the sketches take the form of tales of familial dysfunction, including one in which a distressed woman is frantically searching for her missing baby in a series of increasingly strange subterranean tunnels – one seems to be a giant’s anal passage mid-buggering. The other half are concerned with the romantic imbroglios of young people trying and failing to find connections in this horrific apocalypse.
This bubbling of emotion creeps up on you as you acclimatise to the film’s multi-media excesses, which includes animated segments (the myriad styles include 8-bit, stop-motion collage and claymation) that act as the mortar for Ellison’s jigsaw of filth. By its end, Kuso might even qualify as moving.
The final sequence follows a couple whose sex life has stalled, and even violent auto-erotica sessions aren’t doing it for them anymore. But love blossoms in strange places, in this case via a gay boil with a Liverpudlian accent who pops up on the woman’s neck and enlivens the couple’s sex drive, resulting in the wildest threeway ever captured on screen.
Ellison has clearly taken great delight in creating a freakshow designed to offend. Perhaps in an act of self-defence, he’s slipped his own meta-takedown into the script. “I fuckin’ hate this movie,” complains a young woman while watching a strange show featuring male genital mutilation, “it’s garbage.” “It’s art,” argues one of her inter-dimensional alien roommates. She doesn’t buy it though, countering that “art is garbage.”
It is garbage, but thrillingly, in Ellison’s hands, this garbage becomes art.
Kuso screened at Glasgow Film Festival; it streams on SHUDDER UK from 21 Jul
Follow Jamie Dunn on Twitter at @JamieDunnEsq