Cuck (2019) Review

I am a fan of dark and perverse stories driven by obsessed characters. The psychologically driven drama, the atmospheric horror, these character driven trips into cinematic madness can be especially memorable. These films are indebted to film noir; and like all good noir, even if they are sanitized above the surface, there is a macabre underbelly. There is human wretchedness just beneath the skin, and the line between hero and antihero is never all that clear. The weakness in “Cuck” is that there is no such subtlety. The performances are really top notch, but the lack of subtlety in the writing makes the story more propagandistic than it needed to be. There is no character arc for any of the characters, and though good films do not always have to have recognizable arcs this story would have been much more compelling if we had seen the protagonist descend from a basically good, if socially awkward, man into a tormented killer. Given what happens at the end, the story would have been so much more poignant if he had shown real love for his old, debilitated mother at the beginning, rather than always regarding her at best as a senile burden to be avoided. Moreover, when we first encounter the protagonist he is already an unctuous basement dweller who gets his jollies from alt right media. We do not see him fall to his grave. He is already down there rolling in the muck. Moreover, we never see him try to struggle against his darker nature. Even his one attempt at dating a woman he meets online serves to highlight just how screwed up he is. Also, does he have to embody every anti-social conceit of the stereotypical alt right incel? As an illustrative aside, Norman Bates in the novel “Psycho” was much like the protagonist in this film – fat, slovenly etc. Alfred Hitchcock smartly abandoned much of this characterization in the film “Psycho.” So instead of an obvious, on the nose pervert we see a Norman Bates who is capable of kindness and who battles (and ultimately loses to) his personal demon (symbolized by Mother). If in “Cuck” we had had some reason to empathize with the protagonist, his descent into hell really could have hit us hard. Instead, we have a guy who will not even hug his mother back when she embraces him. It is a funny scene, but it is emblematic of a character already beyond any hope. There is no struggle, no real tension, and therefore instead of a flesh and blood character we are witnessing a “case study” of an alt right incel loser. We the audience are like the jury hearing a one-sided, contrived description of the defendant in a closing argument. Whether or not the description is accurate or over the top, the closing argument (the message of the film) is too heavy handed for good cinema. It may work as a propaganda piece, but if that is the objective then it should have been a short. Given the long running time the lack of any subtlety in the characterizations, the obvious foreshadowing of what will happen later, the unambiguous symbolism of the cuckold incel, etc. turn what could have been at least decent propaganda into a tedious and self-important “message film.” On the plus side, the graphic sex scenes are well done. They are not at all gratuitous in that they serve to highlight the intrinsically cuck nature of the protagonist. It would have been so much better for the story if the protagonist had been more than simply a stereotypical cuck, but since he is that and nothing more the sex scenes work in that context.

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Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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