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  Relaxer Couch Trip
Year: 2018
Director: Joel Potrykus
Stars: Joshua Burge, David Dastmalchian, Andre Hyland, Mafuz Rahman, Madigan Bachman, Adina Howard, Amari Cheatom, Jeen Na, Joe Anderson
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Abbie (Joshua Burge) has not sought much out of life, to the extent that he spends his time on his brother's couch playing video games most of the time, not gainfully employed, with no romantic partner, and basically a forgotten man. With this in mind, his brother Cam (David Dastmalchian), wishing to alternately give Abbie some purpose in life and punish him for being such a loser, sets him challenges within very specific parameters that he has had trouble succeeding with, such as listening to metal guitar solos at full volume on headphones. Currently the idea is that Abbie plays a game and takes regular drinks of milk every few minutes, but is not allowed to relieve himself, but just as he is destined to fail miserably at that, he will decide to man up and prove himself for Cam's next challenge...

One of those films that sound like you're making it up should you try to explain its plot to anyone, Relaxer was the brainchild of American low budget auteur Joel Potrykus, who in the twenty-tens began to make waves for himself among the fans of indie movies, and fans of out there culture overall. At this stage in the medium, you might have thought there were no more stories to tell, but he demonstrated that just wasn't the case - you did have to go pretty weird to be truly original, however, and more than that not look as if you were basically throwing random shit at a wall and seeing what stuck. Of course, that was a legitimate way of creating originality as far as that went, but a structure and a purpose to your endeavours never went amiss, even if you were simply arseing around.

Was Potrykus doing that? He seemed to be perfectly serious about his work, and there was a quality about it that lent itself to analysis to the point of pretension, but he appeared to have a sense of humour into the bargain, no matter how deep in the story it was buried. There were moments in Relaxer which, assuming you had a strong sense of humour yourself, would make you laugh thanks to how downright bizarre they were, yet you could discern some of the pop culture obsessiveness that had overtaken many other projects, cult, obscure and mainstream. When the premise was that Abbie must beat the legendary Level 256 in Pac-Man, a feat notorious among gamers for its status as a glitch it was impossible to get past because it suffered a coding error, it was obvious it was greatly specific in its references.

It did not stop there, for as Abbie spends increasing amounts of days sitting on the couch, a cultural benchmark destined to be a footnote looms: the Y2K bug. Just as Pac-Man couldn't cope with going too far, the world's computers were not able to get past the year 2000 in their internal calendars, and that was, we were told, going to result in mass power loss, planes falling out of the sky, rioting, dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria. As you may know, thanks to preparation before the fact that never happened, but there was apocalypse in the air that Planet Earth has never been able to shake off since, yet as you watch Relaxer and witness how extreme it was getting, you began to wonder if this film was not going to let humanity off so easily. Without spoiling it, it did close on a conclusion that was set in the details of what had gone before (Abbie trying to be psychic, him needing to get his self-esteem even when it didn't matter to anyone else, the 256 screen encouraging the global madness), but still a surprise, probably because it was a non sequitur in narrative stakes. Blatantly not for everyone, but if you were attuned to its craziness, you'd appreciate it. Music by Neon Indian.

[Anti-Worlds release Relaxer on a Blu-ray double bill with Buzzard. Here are the features on that first disc:

• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
• Behind the Scenes (2018, 7 mins): on-set footage featuring Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge
• Deleted scene (5 mins)
• Rehearsal footage (2018, 10 mins)
• Milk Party (2001, 9 mins): the real-life inspiration behind one of Relaxer's most memorable scenes
• Four short films by Joel Potrykus: Ludovico Treatment (1999, 2 mins), Ludovico Testament (1999, 4 mins), Coyote (2010, 25 mins) and Test Market 447b (2019, 2 mins)
• Follicle Gang (Green) (2011, 2 mins): music video for Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, directed by Potrykus
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• David Dastmalchian promos
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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