Harmony Korine is convinced “that one thing”—the movies—“is dying, and something new is being born,” midwifed, perhaps, by his new film-fashion-metaverse production company EDGLRD (pronounced “edge lord”).
EDGLRD plans to release a film, or rather a “blinx,” as often as once a month, possibly achieving this prolific rate of content production with the assistance of AI. Aggro Dr1ft (2023), EDGLRD’s first drop, is shot with infrared cameras for a heat-vision effect Korine calls “gamercore,” and which he believes will be that new something for an audience that is, like him, always flicking their eyes back and forth between multiple screens. (“Narrative always felt like a place for disruption.”) Aggro Dr1ft probably plays better in the background, to viewers only half paying attention but not really missing anything, because the sound and image is so repetitive.
Jordi Mollà plays a hitman who drives around on missions through a Vice City–like Miami of speedboats and nightclubs, tormented by thunderous music and visions of a CGI Moloch who looms in the lurid green or red sky; in voiceover, he growls about his demons, the evil of the world, the redemptive power of love, and his deep love for his wife—who, back home, squirms around patiently, wetly, on their marital bed. He goes to a trailer park full of little people (this may be a preview of Leprechaun Yakuza, an in-development EDGLRD concept that’s “basically about these leprechauns that fight these yakuza,” per Korine). He goes to the strip club. He goes to a yacht, where his former protégé Travis Scott holds his head in his hands, indifferent to the booty that surrounds him, overwhelmed by the pressures of holding onto his bag. Korine leans into the overwrought materialist religiosity of a street-striver narrative as the narration loops back again and again to the depths of evil and the ecstasies of sex, as girls dance and guys kill in pixelated motion. The entire movie is a cutscene and every woman is an NPC.
Korine believes, or at least has said, that “the Call of Duty trailer . . . looks better than anything that Spielberg’s ever done,” but EDGLRD has some distance to make up on Activision. Recurrent cutaways foreshadow the hitman’s showdown with the ultimate embodiment of evil, a swole mob lord who keeps women in cages and repeatedly humps the air and grunts while holding a katana, as if you spilled soda on your controller and now one of the buttons sticks. As you’ll have seen by now, Korine is doing the promotional rounds for Aggro Dr1ft while wearing a 3D-printed horned demon mask, to signal his irreverent and confrontational intentions.
The infrared gimmick sustains interest over a full film better than I feared it would. Every time it seems like the abrasive novelty of the choice is about to wear off there’s a fold on the surface of the image— the impressions of body heat left behind on a bed, or the formation of individual droplets within a puddle. Such incidental textures are Aggro Dr1ft’s most original and playful aspect, though it’s hard to square these chilled-out lysergic flickers of interest with Korine’s transgressive intentions. It’s not particularly revolutionary, for that matter, to ape the well-established grammar of video games. The simple fact of Korine’s undimmed impulsiveness and indulgence, the willingness of a 50-year-old man to describe himself as bored by the prospect of watching a whole movie from start to finish, presents a sort of challenge to established hierarchies of art and media. But there’s something else at work here, as well.
Race, or anyway whiteness, is Korine’s great subject. In that sense, Aggro Dr1ft is the latest chapter in a story that began with Kids (1995), written by a teenaged Korine at a time when rap music and its vernacular was just beginning to become synonymous with youth culture. New York melting-pot youth were early adopters, as alarmingly precocious and shocking to Middle America for their baggy pants and blaccents as for their sexual promiscuity. Gummo (1997) proceeds from the observation that the animating factor in non-coastal white America is boredom, upon which Spring Breakers (2012) builds with its study of shiftless, lost white kids narcotizing themselves with Blackness so they can feel something, going on a co-ed rumspringa that takes the form of background action in a rap video, hanging out with James Franco in cornrows and grills. No one in Aggro Dr1ft says “check out my shit,” but they do twerk in a hot tub amid a rain of bills. Well into middle age, Korine showcases the casual appropriation of Black pop-cultural tropes as a form of juvenile rebellion.
Aggro Dr1ft screens tonight, October 14, at the New York Film Festival, at which it had its U.S. premiere.