By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Joel Potrykus has carved out one hell of an interesting niche for himself chronicling the lives of poor, delusional, toxic, and maybe, just maybe, magick loners – Ape, Buzzard, and The Alchemist Cookbook comprise about as unique and dialed-in a resume as any indie filmmaker out there.
You know you want to know what possibly could be going on right here.
Joshua Burge stars as Abbie, a young man without obvious prospects beyond taking all of the destined to fail, largely vomit-inducing dares his brother (David Dastmalchian) dishes out. The latest- don’t leave the couch until he’s beaten the notoriously glitched-out Level 256 of Pac-Man, a feat that will win them both 100,000 bucks from the Billy Mitchell (go watch King of Kong). Abbie proceeds to do just that- for maybe a year?
Joel Potrykus, as always operating on a can’t-be-too-substantial budget, creates an entire grubby, grungy, realistic and certainly roach-infested world in this living room where asshole friends who work at Chuck-E-Cheese, that brother, exterminators, and maybe even his locked up for pedophilia Dad all come and go, but Abbie, his controller, and that couch all stay the same.
He’s quit quitting, you see.
The aesthetic is so trash, so 90s, so 90s trash (it’s set in 1999, and yes, Y2K plays a significant role), and when things get gross, they get grawsss. I mean, Abbie never leaves that couch, so the questions do very much abound.
This seemingly bland and grubby canvas is, as usual for Potrykus, a jumping off point for a quick and deep descent into insanity with some delightfully absurd turns and strange genre inflections. Abbie may have some powers, you see, or at least the power of his self-delusion is something to behold.
That this isn’t all ultimately insufferable is also thanks in large part to a truly committed performance from Joshua Burge (in an entirely different but complimentary register to Buzzard). He makes you never lose sight of the humanity in the grotesquerie, so when Potrykus’ brilliant Cronenbergian mindfuck of an ending lands, it’s not without empathy commingled with the horror.
At times it can be exactly as much of a slog as you’d expect a feature-length film about a man who literally refuses to leave his couch would be. That’s very much on purpose, but it’s a thing. Also it’s pretty damn gross, which is also the point, but mileage will vary.
Banging holes into pipes is the Russianest of roulettes.
Relaxer is another mind-and-world bending dive into the beta male psyche from the established master of the form, Joel Potrykus. Lynch and Cronenberg would be (likely are?) proud.
Relaxer (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Abbie tries and fails to accomplish something with his grabber
Take a Drink: every time you’re reminded he’s playing Pac Man
Take a Drink: for every late 90s reference
Take a Drink: every time Abbie asks somebody for help
Do a Shot: every time the 3D glasses go on