Is it possible to leave your enfance without losing your terrible? The one-and-only Harmony Korine, now 50 years young, returns with Aggro Dr1ft, a premiere out-of-competition at the Venice Film Festival this week and, by my count, the only so far to have triggered mass walkouts and a ten-minute standing ovation. Shot entirely in infrared and using augmented reality effects and AI imaging tools, Aggro Dr1ft appears like the fever dream of a day spent drinking lean, watching music videos, and playing God of War and Grand Theft Auto. At times it’s funny, dazzling, almost beautiful; at others ugly, misogynistic, numbingly dull. Only he could have made it.
Aggro Dr1ft is the first feature to arrive from Korine’s newly minted and somehow even more annoyingly named EDGLRD media studios, a creative hub of fashion designers, skateboarders, AI artists, gamers, and animators whom Korine has tasked with finding new forms of entertainment. In recent interviews, the director has spoken openly about wanting to reimagine what cinema can be: “Wasn’t wanting to make a movie,” the director wrote in his press notes, “wanted to make what comes after movies.” Do not go into Aggro Dr1ft expecting anything as gratuitous as narrative coherency. You would have as much luck waiting for the beat to drop in 4’33.
Korine has named this new aesthetic “gamecore,” which seems pretty apt. Even the most casual player will recognize the rhythms and visual cues here: the actors move and converse like NPCs, repeating phrases and gestures, and moving around with all the personality of an avatar in Second Life. A satanic demon is forever appearing on the horizon. It’s like you’ve logged into somebody’s unhinged Twitch stream. For all it lacks in other areas, however, it mostly compensates in the sheer audacity of its ideas. The film’s aesthetic is also genuinely new: filmed in Miami (like much of his recent output), the city hums with the infrared lens’ neon hues. The AI adds a dynamic second skin to the actors that recalls the early images of Google’s Deep Dream. In the moments when everything clicks, it creates something thrillingly novel.
As experimental as all that is, things do happen in this film that lead to other events in a relatively chronological fashion. The action follows a man (played by Jordi Mollà) who claims, via one of many muddled voiceovers, to be both “a humble assassin” and “the best assassin in the world.” We see him at home with his wife and kids but also at the strip club––though both scenes feature twerking, only one shows Roman candles shooting out of orifices. At a party on a boat, Travis Scott appears as his protege Zion (though the practicalities of their relationship and its significance to the rest of the story are left, let’s generously say, under-explored). The Mollà protagonist shares his scattered thoughts in voiceover while building towards a showdown with a muscular final boss who likes to hold his katana like a phallus and thrust towards the horizon.
Korine has a long history at the Italian festival. When Gummo played Critic’s Week in 1997, news of the cat-killing sequence drew protests from PETA. He was back with Julien Donkey-Boy in 1999 and again in 2012 with Spring Breakers. (I remember sitting in that screening and watching the place erupt for Alien’s Britney song.) The critics in 1997 tore Gummo to shreds. Is it so fanciful to imagine a new generation taking Aggro Dr1ft or some future EDGLRD production as a touchstone? Korine talks a big game; it wouldn’t be the first time he’s proved people wrong.
Aggro Dr1ft premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival.