SXSW 2018: Relaxer
Relaxer is the latest low-budget endeavor from director Joel Potrykus, reuniting him with leading actor Joshua Burdge for the fourth time. It undertakes a similar minimalist structure to Potrykus’s last film The Alchemist’s Cookbook, in that the entire 90-minute feature is set in one environment, as we watch shirtless man-child protagonist Abbie (Burdge), saddled into the goal of achieving a high score in Pac-Man on the eve of Y2K, refusing to leave the confines of his living room.
His ultimate objective in doing this is to win a $100,000 cash prize from PC World magazine, with plans to use the money to buy a boat and locate his long-lost father. The fear of what is in store for the 2000s era looms, as Abbie’s brother Cam (David Dastmalchain) barks “there ain’t no Nintendo in the Y2K”, making this a mission of great importance. What makes Relaxer so intriguing is how far its willing to push this premise; not only in how the action is confined to an extremely limited space, but through its postulation on how Y2K was thought to usher in a apocalyptic event. In this latter element, the film goes to some really strange places, that elevate its storytelling.
After a lengthy pre-title sequence which sets the stage for the ensuing hour, Abbie is continually thwarted by a number of deterrents, from friends and neighbors who come and go, to a number of off-putting sight-based gags sure to make audiences squeam and cringe. Burdge is stellar in the lead, equal parts nauseating and fun to watch, with a performance that is sure to give many other slackers some perspective into how they guide their lives.
If you’ve seen any of Potrykus’s past films such as Buzzard, Ape, or the aforementioned Alchemist’s Cookbook, you probably know what to expect. Relaxer doesn’t stray too far in terms of style or tone, but on a conceptual level it manages to provide a more concentrated version of Potrykus’s fixation on stories about people trying to make a better live for themselves through finding a shortcut through societal norms. While the plot hinges on one man’s conquest, we are still treated to a wild blend of characters who are each fleshed out by their monologues and mannerisms.
Relaxer gradually gets more disgusting at it trudges forward, yet remains remarkable for the way in which it encapsulates the pre-millennium panic, while also reminiscing on nostalgia of the 1990s. It shifts into pure absurdist fantasy territory in its third act, however by this point the story has enraptured the audience so effectively, it manages to pull off such a detour with grace.
Relaxer is another achievement in Potrykus’s lo-fi loserdom canon - here’s hoping he manages to continue that streak with his next project, whatever it may be.