TIFF 2023: Harmony Korine’s ‘AGGRO DR1FT’

Harmony Korine set out on day one of shooting his new infrared ‘gamecore’ film, AGGRO DR1FT, to explore the idea of what comes “after” movies. Bored with the current standards and tropes of traditional movie-making, Korine looked to disrupt the process. Looking to the worlds of gaming, AI, and social media, the resulting product of Korine’s EDGLRD art collective is definitely something new. Whether or not you agree with the direction he’s taken, or even the idea that anything needs to come ‘after’, there’s no arguing that, once again, Korine has built something that feels like nothing that came before it. 

Explaining or even trying to recount plot here feels both rote and missing the point. AGGRO DR1FT is an experiential exercise, not unlike Skinamarink, in that it’s best consumed with no expectations. It’s a purely sensory experience, built entirely of vibes. Korine wants this to play like a drug trip, letting your singular circumstance and mental state drive the experience rather than the other way around. 

But, there is a plot. It centres around Bo (Jordi Molla), an expert and highly-paid assassin who wears body armour and a mask, who races around Miami in a sports car, taking out powerful people at the whim of a powerful crime kingpin. Along the way, you’ll meet his newly-recruited team of assassins (including Travis Scott’s Zion), his target(s), and the frightening creature that looms over the city. Bo is a little like a lone samurai, or maybe Refn’s Driver. Aloof, quietly powerful, but also prone to mindless pontification about his family and his delusions of being a hero. In fact, all the dialogue, such as it is, consists mainly of repetitive monologues, mantra-like from Bo and various other characters. I’m not sure if the rumours are true that it was all generated with AI, but it certainly feels that way.  There’s a stilted, phase-filter-sounding tinge to the audio, making everyone come across like bored robots. If this was written by real people, I would seriously question whether they’ve had a normal interaction with another person in their whole life. 

Visually, infrared lensing gives the film the effect of feeling like you’re on powerful psychedelics. Every corner of every frame is imbued with vibrant colour that’s constantly moving and shifting. Images, too, like the tattoos on a person’s body or the designs on a face mask shift and morph, Rorschach-style. It sounds disorienting, and it is at first, but after a while your eyes and your mind get used to the rhythms. Perspective drifts smoothly but impulsively from side to side as though being controlled with a DualSense controller, and you almost find yourself looking for the targeting reticle in the middle of the screen.  It feels, to me, like the next step beyond the high-tech 1990’s vaporwave aesthetic that Korine helped to establish in Spring Breakers (and which Nicolas Winding-Refn sped along with Drive) This is gamecore, baby. 

A score by Araabmuzik feels disconnected from the action, in the way that every element of the film feels disconnected. Korine said at the screening I attended that Araabmuzik hadn’t even seen the film, and was just ‘texting tracks over’ which Korine would cut into the visuals. Like those visuals, the score feels dreamlike and occasionally antagonistic towards the audience, but retains the organically uncanny vibes of the twisted, dangerous Miami that Korine has devised.

If this sounds frustrating, or not enough to justify what’s just under a 90-minute runtime, you’re probably right. It feels like a video game cutscene (from Grand Theft Auto specifically) that you’re waiting to hit ‘skip’ on so you can get to actually playing the game. But, somehow, I found myself into it. Letting it wash over me as the mantra-like repetitiveness of the dialogue, littered with more platitudes than a Mass Effect or Final Fantasy character, bring on what was, for me, a pleasurable numbness.

Perhaps, and I base this on nothing in particular, AGGRO DR1FT is a movie so beyond tradition that it’s ill-suited to be watched in a traditional venue, like a movie theatre. Maybe, like Skinamarink, there’s value in consuming it passively while you do other things. That is, after all, how my kids and many people watch movies these days. Scrolling one’s phone while allowing the beats of the movie stream in by osmosis. Whether or not this is true, what I do get  from AGGRO DR1FT is a familiar Harmony Korine feeling that I’m watching the beginning of something, the genesis of a genre, or at least a subgenre. This particular plot may be lacking, but the tools that EDGLRD and Kornie have developed for this film may be better – maybe even ideally-suited – for something different, in the hands of a different director. Maybe my kids will watch a Grand Theft Auto or a Modern Warfare or a Pokemon film in this format in 2030, or maybe it’ll be deployed in some high-concept procedurally-generated game on the Playstation 7. In the way that Korine’s films have always influenced and pollinated the bleeding edge of what comes after, perhaps this really is what’s next. Either way, it’s unlikely that we’ll know it’s happening before it’s too late, and the trigger’s long since been pulled. 

AGGRO DR1FT played at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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