In the directorial debut of Peter Vack, Assholes opens up with a recently sober Adah (Betsy Brown) talking to her psychotherapist. She complains about having to compete with her brother for their parent’s affection and laments how horny she is. She soon falls off the wagon at her brother’s house and eventually runs into her brothers best friend Aaron (Jack Dunphy) at their psychotherapist’s office and begin tumbling down the rabbit hole of depravity, indulgence, and awkward comedy.
This is most definitely in the running for the most WTF film of the year. Early on you find out the title is a double entendre. First and foremost, all of the characters in this movie are assholes. But we soon find out that Aaron is obsessed with said orifice. When Adah and Aaron start down their path of addiction and debauchery, the audience is taken on a wild ride that is relentless. Once the film picks up, it never lets up. For instance, three of the characters in the movie have herpes and Vack utilizes this to a nauseating effect. But midway through the movie, somehow, it manages to get weirder. The first half of the film focuses on Adah and Aaron’s descent into life-controlling addiction then the second half… has a shit demon in it which is then followed up by some body horror that would put a smile on Cronenberg’s face.
Betsy Brown and Jack Dunphy put on excellent performances exemplifying complete assholery. They commit themselves to the perverse material that is displayed, most notably in a scene where the characters are walking around Times Square. This scene seems to be filmed guerilla style with the cinematographer chasing after them and trying to catch up. Both characters are high but as they travel down the street. Aaron does some uncomfortably awkward things, legitimately pissing people off on the sidewalks or in stores. Eileen Dietz (The Exorcist) plays the shit-demon Mephistopheles or “Mephi” as they affectionately call her. Eileen ended up being the highlight of the film “terrorizing” people in a purple bath robe.
The colors in the film are just as loud as the characters. Bright reds and blues juxtaposed with dingy depravity that ultimately consumes the couple. And every time you see a character with a herpes sore, it is right in front of your face forcing you to either look at it or close your eyes. The soundtrack is pretty freakin’ metal but it can distract the viewer from the already erratic scenery. The practical effects done throughout are comical; Adah and Aaron seem to have permanent sores on their lips and then nose that hit the reverse button on your digestive track. And the body horror at the end is so gross but it can’t help but make the viewer laugh at the obscenity of it all.
The film clocks in at just over 70 minutes which is just enough time to maintain the chaos and insanity without pushing the audience away. The films structure starts off slow but then gradually picks up pace, leading the viewer to ponder during the credits, “What the F did I just watch?” “Assholes” seems to be like a cross of the uncomfortable comedy in Happiness and the trashiness of any John Waters film. But what really ties the weird bow together is that Vack and Brown are siblings in real life and Adah’s parents are their real life mother and father. That’s one open and supportive family.
Assholes is playing at the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival on Friday, September 29th. Tickets can be purchased at https://filmfreeway.com/festival/PhiladelphiaUnnamedFilmFestival/tickets