Movie Review: Shudder Presents KUSO (2017)

If you’ve seen a music video by artist Steve Ellison (better known by his stage name, Flying Lotus), you’ll have a vague idea of what to expect from his new experimental anthology flick, KUSO. I can at least tell you what I expected – I expected an insane descent into (possibly drug-fueled) surrealist nonsense with a unique vision and distinct visual flair.

I wasn’t disappointed.

After hearing reports from early festival screenings, I also expected a bevy of extreme gross out moments. I went into KUSO wanting…nay…demanding that I be soaked in a pool of my own vomit and filth by the time it was over, so I loaded up on Junior Mints and strapped myself in for the ride…

It turns out Flying Lotus – of FlyLo as some might call him – co-wrote the screenplay with a writing partner, David Firth. Firth was responsible for internet phenomenon “Salad Fingers”, which goes some way to detailing the pedigree of KUSO. I’d love to see the screenplay for this thing, because even boiling KUSO down to a palatable summary for this review seems like an insurmountable feat, let along writing it into a script.

So, let me try summarizing; we find out that Los Angeles has been hit by a massive earthquake that has left its denizens mentally disturbed and covered in weeping, pus-filled sores. Everyone looks like a grotesque live-action Ren and Stimpy closeup. We follow these characters through a collection of short stories: a man scared of breasts who goes to an abortion clinic for treatment, a woman who lives with two Yip Yip muppets on steroids, a seemingly mute school student who finds a cocoon in the forest and repeatedly feeds it his feces, and a Japanese woman trapped in some sort of dark room who thinks she needs to eat her baby to survive until a talking cockroach tells her how to escape.

Honestly, KUSO is more like an extended compilation of music videos than a film – an experience rather than a story, where the way the music interacts with the onscreen action is more important than the characters and their interactions with each other, which rarely moves beyond bizarre stares, or exchanges of horrific bodily functions. Yes, this is gross, strange and crosses just about every conventional boundary of taste that you can think of.

Not many films declare war on an unsuspecting audience quite like KUSO does. Right out of the gate, the screen is doused in ejaculate, blood, shit, and other indescribable fluids. You know the people who couldn’t handle THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE just because of the very concept? Well, those are the kind of folks that will decry the existence of KUSO. Instead, this is aimed at the Adult Swim crowd, or people who appreciated stuff like SPIKE AND MIKE’S FESTIVAL OF SICK AND TWISTED ANIMATION. This is for people who appreciate films where characters suddenly morph into Hitler for no apparent reason.

This is a film best watched with friends and copious hallucinogenic drugs for a maximum bonding experience. In fact, you know who would really like KUSO? Kids. Kids would absolutely fucking love this thing. It’s so puerile in its affection for slime and bodily waste that kids would lap it up; it’s just a shame they should never see it because of the graphic sexual content.

Once you get into KUSO‘s groove, you might find yourself genuinely entertained – like I was – and you’ll be wondering what sort of literal shit it’s gonna throw at you next. For me personally, the highlights of the film were the fun, disgusting Cronenberg-ian practical effects, followed by the nightmarish Monty Python-esque animated sequences that make TOOL’s music video catalogue look like Disney.

Guaranteed, some folks out there will trumpet KUSO as a deep masterpiece of utter genius. I may not be one of them, but I sure did find a lot to like in its determination to be completely whacked, and I was left wanting more. It’s also guaranteed that many will think it’s a complete piece of shit, but even if you do think it’s a piece of shit, you have to admit that it’s a special piece of shit, on fire, flying through hitherto unexplored dimensions that will leave an indelible stain on the fabric of time and space when its flame goes out.

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