Heady, stylish surface visuals hide a sinister secret in this arresting work.
Synopsis: When a teenager finds himself caught in a glitchy-glitzy reality with his onscreen male idol, he does all he can to be possessed by this man and ignore the violent clues of how he got there.
I was lucky enough to first see Playdurizm when it was screened as part of SoHo Horror Film Festival’s Pride edition in 2021. Playdurizm is emblematic of the kind of content of the festival, bringing attention to daring, sometimes experimental films that demand attention. Director (also co-writer and star) Gem Deger has crafted a neon-soaked, pop-art world with pulpy action film influences and a self-contained psychological thriller. If that sounds like a lot, then that makes it an accurate reflection of the film itself. Despite these seemingly disparate elements, as a final product, Playdurizm feels like a cohesive unit.
Demir (Gem Deger) awakes in an unknown location with no memory of how he arrived there or who the people he is around are. Andrew (Austin Chunn) and Drew (Issy Stewart) are an unconventional couple whose impulses around drugs, sex and taboo are instantly brought to the fore. As Demir tries to piece together how he came to be in the house with them he begins to explore his own identity and past as a host of unusual characters engage with him in this otherworldly space..
Aside from the film’s meticulous design and arty non-sequiturs, the real charm is in the performances. Even in a smaller role, Issy Stewart as Drew delivers her barbed one-liners with relish, really selling the campy, melodramatic quality, but finding a heart within that. Chunn too excels as Andrew, needing to balance the excesses of his character, an alternate reality in which he is a movie star in addition to his more sober interactions with Demir. It is, however, Deger’s film, with his at first perhaps oddly pitched performance transforming into an incredibly powerful one. His ability to portray an aching vulnerability in melodramatic lines like, ‘I feel like a manufacturing defect every time I look at you’, perfectly captures Demir as someone in flux or a state of becoming.
A side plot involving an external threat to Demir and Andrew’s burgeoning relationship is home to the film’s few slight missteps, drawing the action and focus away from them. While it does, undoubtedly, have a pay-off, these moments sag the pace to some degree. Alongside the frequently irreverent dialogue and segues into outright strangeness lies a reflexive film with a keen connection to other media, including film and art. For all the exuberant design it is the darker moments where the film’s true power lies. As the film begins to fold in on itself it makes its references to the likes of Videodrome more explicit, evoking the connections between porous media, film escapism and physical transformation.
The film starts with references to Francis Bacon quotations that ‘we are meat, we are potential carcasses’ and that connection to (and more importantly, separation from) physical reality bleeds through the entire film. While the film undoubtedly heads in a thunderously dark direction, it comes to a conclusion that finds beauty and healing outside of that darkness. That Playdurizm is able to conjure both the high-energy, schlocky style with the deeply moving makes it an utterly unique production.
Fiercely original, even when homaging some of the horror genre’s biggest hitters, Playdurizm stands out as a unique, affecting experience that deserves to be seen.
4 out of 5 stars
Playdurizm is currently available for rent and purchase on Amazon Prime Video, GooglePlay, Youtube Movies, iTunes (Apple TV), Vudu (Fandango) and Kino Now (Kino Lorber’s VOD platform), plus on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA. It is also available in Canada on Google Play, Youtube Movies and iTunes (Apple TV).