SXSW Review: Relaxer
“Relax!” A smoking skeleton beseeches us with every indicting phalange of its pointer finger. This, on a poster adorning the walls of Cam’s cubic man cave, which would read plain if they weren’t stained with the hieroglyphics of man’s idiocracy — puerile scrawl, Bart Simpson sketches, and soda blotches — appreciates the principal tenant of relaxation: decay. There is no calm without rot, no chill without acetone.
Two brothers occupy this box of stagnation, and Abby (Joshua Burge), younger and pliable, may never leave. Cam (David Dastmalchian), the eldest, crafts a series of homespun challenges (of which warm milk chugging is a principal tenet) to grate his little brother down. They're designed for Abby's inevitable failure; a primer for Cam to hit him while he's down. But Abby heeds to prove himself in the face of Cam’s ultimatum: beat Billy Mitchell’s Pac-Man record by conquering level 256 — without leaving the couch.
Cam, a sinewy cinderblock of inner-turmoil, and Abby, supple and submissive, are direct results of their father, who, we piece together through passing lore, is probably serving time as a sex offender. Abby was coddled too closely by his father, never had to work to impress him, and doesn’t work to impress now. It’s possible that Cam, who prefers their mother, could do nothing to win the affection of their father, and, to this day, still lives to try.
But Abby will incarnate his false empowerment, the infinite ego refined by parental cosseting, into a telekinetic superpower; which is why he can only access his abilities when he equips his 3D glasses, a childhood gift his father alleges will protect him. Too bad, then, that they only seem to be a marginal asset in his most impeding task, his brother’s challenge, because the stakes remain, in that Potrykus way, only as strong as its hero can envisage. This time, though, that’s true of Abby’s tools to overcome them too.
Relaxer tussles between two sick constructs of a corroded mind: a false power, a faux obstacle, fought entirely on a sinking couch to the augmented cries of Prokofiev’s Crusaders in Pskov. This intravenous milk drip feels like a glitch in the system, a freak-anomaly spat from a black hole. Shot unlike any one-location film, without gimmicks and within rules, the camera never breaks Abby's eye level. It’s a technique that pays off when his eyes spike the lens.
Despite crisscrossing world’s with The Alchemist Cookbook and boasting Buzzard break-out Joshua Burge in the lead role, this is some other mangy Potrykus mutant. A particular scene comes to mind as ineffable, an out-of-left-field-night-time visit from the film’s only embodiment of kindness, R&B singer Adina Howard as Arin, who tends to Abby under a sultry spotlight. Potrykyus and his D.P Adam J. Minnick manage worlds out of a one-room-show.
Relaxer’s aural terrain will bubble between quotidian couch-bound shuffles and the hypnagogic ambience of its outside world — which it’s made sole proprietor. It grounds the film’s earthy nastiness, the milk vomit and the button mashing, and betrays it, coaxing us back into a lurid half-conscious spell.
With Relaxer, Writer/Director Joel Potrykus updates his sad-man-manifestation of the new millennium. His idle man Abby, seeking asylum in his father, assumes the boundless possibilities of his progenitor’s promise. Under his father’s wing, Abby believes anything is possible; his power is infinite. He might just manage himself from the couch.