2017’s gross-out movie of note, a freeform exercise in sub-Cronenbergian excess with a satiric thrust and overall fixation on bodily secretion. The feature filmmaking debut of the hip hop artist Steve, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, KUSO is said to have inspired a record number of walk-outs during its premiere screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and has been declared “the grossest movie ever made.”
The film, whose vast multi-ethnic cast includes comedian Hannibal Buress, actor/writer Tim Heidecker and porn star Lexington Steele, is comprised of several interrelated shorts, each with its own cinematographer. The setting is Los Angeles in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, with much of the population infected with a virus that causes, among other things, uncontrollable flatulence and nasty sores to form on peoples’ bodies.
We see a virus-afflicted couple getting affectionate, during which they smear pus all over each other’s faces, while on their TV a guy is literally eaten alive by an acidic stomach tumor. Overhead a bizarre spacecraft hovers, piloted by trans-dimensional beings loosed by the earthquake. In the surrounding countryside, meanwhile, strange creatures are birthed, among them a featureless mound with pulsating sphincter-like lips, inside of which a mutated human head appears.
Hallucination is also quite prevalent in this world, as evinced by a giant cockroach a young woman imagines is talking to her. Specifically, it urges her to find her newborn baby, who’s fallen down a steep shaft, and eat it!
Elsewhere, a woman lives with a pair of furry Muppet-like beings with nipples sprouting from their bodies in odd places, and a man visits a most eccentric doctor whose treatment involves the M.D. excreting a lobster-like creature from his asshole.
The film often feels like an extended music video, which appears to be precisely the effect Flying Lotus, a longtime music video director, was after. He mixes animation with heavily stylized live action in a freeform manner that also incorporates CGI (in a trip through a person’s severely mutated insides), music numbers, lengthy theatrical monologues and, most strikingly, digitally altered snippets from actual TV broadcasts (such as a seventies gameshow whose host and contestants are made to look deformed and pustule-faced).
Tonally it’s closer to a Zucker Bros. parody than a proper horror film (which helps forgive the tackiness of many of the special effects), yet has a gritty streetwise aesthetic that contrasts mightily with the suburban milieus of most modern horror films (sample dialogue: “I grow on you, bitch, you don’t fuckin’ grow on me!”). Certainly no other horror film I’ve seen contains anything like the climactic scene in KUSO involving an ejaculating penis and a talking boil, a scene that undoubtedly reaches some kind of pinnacle in cinematic outrage.
Grossness for grossness’s sake? Perhaps, but KUSO has a visionary and artistic verve that sets it apart. Its depiction of transcendent ugliness is as fully realized as any I’ve seen, and the film overall is everything past efforts ranging from DR. CALIGARI to REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA and ANTIVIRAL wanted to be but weren’t.
Director: “Steve” (a.k.a. Flying Lotus, Steven Ellison)
Producers: Eddie Alcazar, Steve
Screenplay: David Firth, Steve
Cinematography: Benjamin A. Goodwin, Danny Hiele, Norm Li
Editing: Luke Lynch
Cast: Hannibal Buress, David Firth, The Buttress, Zack Fox, Pretty Ricki Fontaine, George Clinton, Tim Heidecker, Manuel Vazquez, Diana Terranova, Lexington Steele, Lewton Vines, Donnell Rawlings, Matt McCarthy, Guru Singh, Byron Bowers, Anders Holm, Lexington Steele, Iesha Rochelle, Jen Saunderson