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Playdurizm starts with what looks like a moment from a feverish dream. A man and a woman having sex. She’s in a sling and he’s standing up. Ecstasy on both sides. Meanwhile, in a separate reality, another man appears to be hurtling through space and/or time in a lo-fi mock-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “stargate sequence”, while in voiceover a quotation from Francis Bacon (the painter not the philosopher) informs us that humans are all “meat”.

Dream over, that man, Demir (Gem Deger, who also directs and co-wrote with Morris Stuttard), wakes up in a strange place, not sure who or where he is. In the kitchen of the kitschy, Pop Art-y apartment where he finds himself, the man from the dream is cooking the woman from the dream some breakfast. A pet pig is running about. Who are these people? What’s the deal with the pig. Is Andrew really frying bacon?

Over the next 80-something minutes not everything is explained but we are eventually just about able to sketch in the bones of what’s going on. Demir, it turns out, is in his own apartment, but according to Andrew (Austin Chunn) and the suspiciously similarly named Drew (Issy Stewart), he’s “rebooted”, losing his memory in the process.

That’s what they say, one possibility. Another is that Demir might be in a parallel reality. Yet another that Andrew and Drew are computer-generated characters inside some vast game, as Demir might be too. A complication, a funny one in a film full of funny little moments, is that Demir fancies the hell out of Andrew but Andrew seems unapproachably, disdainfully heterosexual.

Drew, meanwhile, is openly hostile towards Demir, as if she senses a threat to her relationship. Surely not?

Issy Stewart as Drew
Issy Stewart as Drew

Deger’s weird, wonky debut cross-fertilises the body horror of David Cronenberg (his Videodrome is explicitly referenced) with the Pop Art stylistics of a Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol and then cross-fertilises again with PornHub, adding sex to the mix. The result is an edgy, paranoid, cock-eyed movie that teeters between not-quite-horror and not-quite-comedy.

There is death, there is the drinking of menstrual blood, there is Nazi memorabilia. At one point a shirtless Andrew sits in the bath eating a banana. At another, Deger gives us a moment’s breather, with a brilliantly executed mock trailer for a film about the relationship between Andrew and Drew – “His dark passion… Her dark stain… But nothing stays secret for ever.”

Some of the shock moves are a bit artschool-y, some of the acting is a bit planky now and again (it’s acting rather than re-acting, as the saying almost goes) and yet it all holds together thanks to the question it poses at the outset – what the hell is going on? – and then obliquely sets about answering while at the same time toying with the idea that Demir and Andrew might get it on.

It’s incredibly likeable, sometimes in an “oh no, you can’t be serious” kind of way. And admirable, in a “this really has no budget behind it at all” kind of way. Setting it all in some vague approximation of 20 years ago, when candy-coloured iMacs and video stores staffed by scruffy nerds were the order of the day, fits in snugly with Deger’s lo-tech aesthetic.

Francis Bacon, Josef Goebbels, David Conenberg, dead bodies stored in a drawer, two people being sewn together with twine, green vomit, lakes of blood, Deger keeps it coming in neon-heavy kaleidoscopic fashion, some of it familiar, much of it not, smartly photographed by Cédric Lavoire with a heavy emphasis on the colours pink and blue.

It’s won a few awards at various “underground” film festivals around the world, so clearly there is an audience for what Deger is serving up. That’s probably the best way to watch it, with a similarly minded crowd, whooping. What will Deger do next?

Playdurizm – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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