Not every movie has to lay everything out in front of the audience. Abstract and experimental films have provided a wider canvas of imagination for audiences to absorb since the start of cinema. A filmmaker looking to play with the audience’s expectations and keep them guessing has been done in smaller scales with the likes of The Usual Suspects or Inception to major experiments like Twin Peaks or The Holy Mountain. Experimentation is a welcome necessity in the world of movies, but does it still deserve any merit if that free form storytelling puts the viewer to sleep?
Kuso is the directorial debut of Steven Ellison, better known as hip-hop producer Flying Lotus (including acts such as Thundercat, Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar). This pseudo-horror anthology film, think Monty Python meets Creepshow, has the backdrop of California after a horrific earthquake and follows four skits interweaving with each other. There’s a young couple (Iesha Coston and Oumi Zumi) who enjoy choking each other and rubbing pus on their lips before kissing, a young female rapper (Bethany Schmitt) getting high with two fuzzy beasts (voiced by Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings) and discovering she’s been impregnated by a stalker (Tim Heidecker). There’s a woman (Mali Matsuda) eating concrete and falling down a sinister void being chased by a giant monster, a man (Zack Fox) who goes to an abortion clinic to be cured of his fears of breasts by a strange doctor (George Clinton), and a small child feeding his feces to a wormlike creature in the woods.
Kuso has a lot of influences in its disgusting, mutating stew. Maybe the most prominent influences are those of the surreal late night comedy shows like Wonder Showzen and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job (Heidecker’s involvement notwithstanding). The movie’s humor (which is a stretch) is based on awkward pauses and random bits of dialogue accompanied by the occasional vocal or picture effect. It’s all incredibly surreal, tasteless, and abhorrently disgusting, which would be fine if it all had a point or a payoff to it. Kuso is nonsense, and it doesn’t have any great humor or truly shocking horror to back it up. Perhaps those with weak stomachs would vomit at the first sight of the small child eating a soup filled with maggots and dishwater, but the tedious progression of the film would more likely make them anxious and bored. Ellison and co-writer David Firth (Salad Fingers) seem to be going for a nightmarish warped reality that plays on people’s fears of body digestion and sexual urges, but the movie has so much random noises and disgusting set and makeup designs at the forefront of the movie results in aimlessness. Even when each story is interspersed with freaky animated transitions that are like Monty Python’s Flying Circus cutaways if the creators smoked crack and listened to Death Grips, it doesn’t do anything.
This movie has been making audiences either applaud its brave outlandish style or running away in terror from its grotesque imagery. Perhaps either of those description would make this film worthy of a recommendation, but the only description that fits Kuso is “boring.” Not very scary, not very funny, and not very interesting to watch in general, Kuso feels like an idea for a cult classic that missed a very crucial element but still got made. Ellison seems to understand the basics of filmmaking and may have a slight talent for offbeat comedy, but his debut feature feels like an attempt to be so against the norm that he forgot it also needed to be about anything at all.