Harmony Korine’s Aggro Dr1ft feels as violent as the internet does

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Aggro Dr1ft, 2024

The filmmaker’s latest project is an aggregator of contemporary internet culture ‘vibes’

“Right in front of my eyes we’re all turning into animals and there’s no turning back.”

This is a line from Harmony Korine’s Aggro Dr1ft but it could easily be said to describe what it feels like to be online today. The ‘man-made horrors’ are inescapable. I’m talking about the clips of suicide drones being dispatched into Gaza or the reports of killer robots replacing humans in combat. The effect is to gamify violence and make it seem as inconsequential as digits on a screen – is it a coincidence the US army’s recruitment drive targets Esports across Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and Discord? There are of course many more examples of the ways in which violence is devirtualised from our screens and into the ‘real world’ – trolling, hazing, doxing – or the very-online rise of far-right ideologies prevalent in the manosphere. It reminds me of a recent tweet by the philosopher Bogna Konior: “The internet is a metaphysical horror game, not a representational machine.”

Why I’m saying all this is because all these ideas are embodied in Aggro Dr1ft’s cold-blooded protagonist BO, a hired assassin (Jordi Mollà) who spends his hours driving a Corvette convertible along the South Florida coast, repeating robotic mantras such as “I was born to kill” and “I am a solitary hero”. For all the GTA vibes and bloodshed, Korine’s tormented assassin could well be a video game character, he certainly acts like one, his identity obscured, body movements and script both uncanny and repetitive. Shot in trippy infrared using special thermal rigs made by NASA – a similar sensor technology used in drone warfare – the camera pans, or drifts, across our field of vision with the uncanniness of a first-person shooter. Demon dwarfs wield scary machetes like NPCs. A giant CG horned demon lurks behind the anti-hero and moves in sync with its host. Is the monster controlling him or an off-screen player? Violence, power, money is everywhere and yet entirely inconsequential. Every kill is simply a ‘game over’.

“Is it a 15 minute video or a 90 minute film?” A friends wrote to me the morning after the night of the London premiere. The answer is neither – it’s a “blinx”. The term is used by Korine to describe “something that we’re using to describe what everything is now. Instead of films or games, a lot of these things – we’re just calling them blinx”. Indeed, the filmmaker’s new multi-media company ‘EDGLRD’ intends to make “movies that are not really movies, movies that are closer to video games, that sometimes are actually playable as video games”. Part of EDGLRD’s method is the adoption of AI across their projects. In Aggro Dr1ft, various AI programmes are used to induce a sense of the uncanny and unreal, from the chatbot-sounding script with no writing credits (this is unconfirmed but I’d be surprised if it’s not AI-generated) to the hallucinogenic fractals on the characters’ skin that evoke a similar psychedelia as Google DeepDream. These freaky moments such as robotic wires superimposed on faces enhance the killer robot plotline, and the ultimate takeaway that we’re all man-machines running on algorithmic code.

This idea that we’re all avatars in a simulation appears frequently in tech and entertainment circles, though it probably hit the mainstream sometime during the pandemic with the metaverse hype. Earlier this year, a research paper came out publishing ‘evidence’ that we’re all living in a simulation. Elon Musk certainly seems to think we are. The Dead Internet Theory that states that most of the content we see online today is generated by bots instead of real humans has been proven true, kind of. These are all ideas that fit in line with Korine’s film, which, at the expense of any plot, feels like an aggregator of contemporary internet culture ‘vibes’ – Korine himself described Aggro Dr1ft as a “vibe-based picture” on stage at the premiere. Even the way that the audience partake in the film as passive onlookers to the bloodshed feels in line with the vibe economy, and mirrors the way we let (oftentimes deeply violent) information wash over us on the feed – just watching.

Aggro Dr1ft, 2024

As electronic screens increasingly supplant the material world, reality has detached itself from embodied experience, and now plays out mostly online through social media. This reinforces the gnostic viewpoint of a techno-utopian digital realm entirely removed from the flawed material world. The consequences of this is a particular breed of hyper-individualism – think the way the algorithm pushes us to compete against each other as content creators, or looksmaxxing trends with terms like ‘mogging’ or internet archetypes such as the sigma male and hustle culture. Similarly, the characterisation of BO as completely devoid of any emotion except an incessant need to kill and destroy his enemies feels very manosphere-coded. In one scene, BO is on a boat with his pack of killer disciples where he says something to the effect of ‘we’re together but alone’, the romanticisation of solitude and hatred-spreading feel very in line with the /pol/ incel who calls himself a lone wolf while idolising fictional characters like Patrick Bateman, while hiding behind an ancient Greek avatar (he even uses the story of Julius Caesar when speaking to his protege Zion, played by Travis Scott).

Admittedly, this is a take I hesitate to share before reminding myself that Korine literally runs an agency named EDGLRD. While there are no suggestions of the internet at any point in the film, the feeling is very much hyper-online – “no more time, no more truth,” recites BO mechanically at some point in the film’s climax, again echoing this post-truth ‘vibes’ we’re currently experiencing. Perhaps there’s some comment to be said about our role as passive consumers on the feed soaking in the excruciating violence. As Marshall McLuhan notes, “We are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies.”

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Gunseli Yalcinkaya