VOD Review: Kuso.
It’s not an accident that independent horror film Kuso means crap/filth in Japanese.
Several months ago I saw the trailer for Kuso and wanted to check it out. Kuso is an indie flick directed by musician Flying Lotus that made the rounds at the usual festivals before winding up on Shudder, a streaming service dedicated to horror movies. The description of the film says its a mixed media horror movie that takes place after a massive natural disaster in LA. In reality, Kuso pretty much defies description…though that by no means implies that it is a good movie.
Kuso loosely weaves together several vignettes without much rhyme or reason. Certain themes and tones are repeated, most notably poop. This movie is very concerned with bodily functions, but I can’t say it rises to the level of body horror. It’s mostly just disconcerting that a 90 minute movie can fill the screen with so much human waste. If you want a concise review, Kuso functions like an extended episode of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Good Job!” if it was directed by John Waters. Again, that doesn’t imply that it’s any good.
After a devastating earthquake, we witness five vignettes about survivors and their day to day lives in a horrible situation.
One thing Kuso can claim is that it has a unique visual style. The characters are all damaged to some degree, whether it be tiny blemishes or hideous boils and deformities. The world they inhabit looks like modern day if you shook a dumpster over it. The sets range from ramshackle derelict buildings to ordinary homes filled with refuse and odd adornments. While most of the film stays indoors and features either drab darkness or antiseptic lighting, a few scenes outside are nearly pastoral…until you notice all of the poop monsters.
The majority of the film is live action, but Flying Lotus inter-cuts multiple sequences of mixed media. These range from digital animation, to pastiches of magazine images, to miniatures and cut-outs, and to scenes that blend any or all of those modes. Many of the sequences are interesting, but Kuso’s determination to resist a narrative renders most of them dull curiosities.
Since Kuso is so jumbled, it’s hard to talk about it coherently. There are some individual elements that border on great, so I’ll just kind of throw them out here: The film has a frame narrative of a sorts where rapper Busdriver appears on a news cast and gives a spoken word Jazz freestyle that is hypnotic. From there we meet two young lovers who are in to erotic asphyxiation, and they are kind of charming. The young actress, Iesha Coston, also has an incredible voice. Most of the music is arresting if not amazing. The acting tends to be solid to good, though the dialogue can be juvenile. A couple of the mixed media scenes early on are novel.
The segments are cut up so that you hop between them, and the initial sequences of each are definitely the strongest moments. The first 45 minutes of the film had me intrigued. I wanted to know more about the world and the people, especially why things are so bad. The problem is that after making an introduction, Kuso decides to be relentlessly focused on bodily functions to the exclusion of any narrative or sense.
Filth for Filth’s Sake.
I’m no stranger to films that exploit our unease about the body and its functions. I’ve seen enough Lars Von Trier, Matthew Barney, and John Waters that I can appreciate how including blood or feces or semen into a piece can shock the sensibilities for artistic purpose. I never felt that Kuso rose to that level. The film just seems to hook up the sewage pipe into your living room and let it rip. For it to work, you have to employ it with purpose. When it comes to putting poop in your art-house flick, a dab will do ya.
At the end of the day, I think Kuso squanders its good points by just being foul and random. The language and the images and the pervading squalor just overwhelm any finer distinctions. Some horror movies do the same to blood or violence: the sheer volume of it inures you to it. I’m not shocked or disgusted by constant fecal matter any more than I am shocked or disgusted (in a meaningful way) by all the gore in a Rob Zombie film. It just winds up feeling like kids making mud pies while spouting all the naughty words they know.
I went into this viewing hoping for a horror movie about the aftermath of a natural disaster, knowing that it was billing itself as weird and eclectic. Kuso doesn’t do anything meaningful with the natural disaster premise, and I think labeling this a horror movie is extremely dubious. As a mixed media experiment, it has some good points, but they’re buried under the refuse. Kuso is not the kind of movie that will provoke a strong reaction, despite how hard it is trying to get one, leaving you 90 minutes poorer and in need of a hot shower.