Relaxer sticks to a grim formalist gimmick that exhausts its visual ideas by about the halfway mark, leaving director Joel Potrykus to indulge in the worst aspects of his gross-out nihilism. Ne’er-do-well/serial quitter Abbie (Joshua Burge) sets himself the “challenge” of beating level 256 in Pac-Man and resolves to not get up from his brother’s couch until this task is accomplished. This set-up allows Potrykus to confine his film to the space of a studio apartment, where Abbie’s communication with the outside world is limited to the occasional visit from a friend. Relaxer consists mostly of long, static takes (and the occasional pan) and means to force viewers to endure the same restrictions as Abbie. But what isn’t present is any sense of the weight or repercussions that might make this story feel connected to a lived reality. By largely cutting Abbie off from others, his actions don’t serve to build any relationships, and instead feel like mundanely strung together vignettes of miserablism. Even Abbie himself comes off as a contrivance, a character given little interiority beyond the physical and psychological pain of his ordeal (mention is made of a possible trauma in his family life, but even that seems to be written off as a cruel joke). The greatest challenge in Relaxer, then, comes not from any diegetic circumstance, but from trying to sit through the thing.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.