Review: Joshua Burge goes through Hell in Joel Potrykus’s mind-bending 'Relaxer'
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
“Relaxer” is going to divide audiences.
Like Director Joel Potrykus said prior to the films screening at the Cinetopia film festival: “You’re either going to love it, or hate it” - he doesn’t want any “in between.”
Now, it’s within my best interest to maintain my artistic integrity, and I, loyal reader, would honestly divulge to you if I did, in fact, hate the movie. But, much to my surprise, I didn’t hate “Relaxer,” I kinda-sorta loved it.
Set at the near turn of the millennium (1999) Potrykus - no stranger to wacky styles of filmmaking see: “Buzzard” - orchestrates a tightrope act of absurdity. And in the process puts his longtime collaborator and muse, Michigan native Joshua Burge, through a gauntlet of stomach-churning madness. I’m not kidding when I say, ‘this guy deserves a medal.’
If anything, Potrykus’s script has given Burge another solid role on his resume as he plays Abbie, a geeky video game enthusiast that seems to spend his days logging hours on “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” or “Pac Man,” and dealing with his obsessive older brother (David Dastmalchain from “Blade Runner 2049”) constantly challenging him to ridiculous scenarios (one involves chugging a gallon of half-spoiled milk). Abbie has failed every scenario that his big bro has thrown at him, and when he can’t keep the milk down (throwing it up in a disgustingly well staged effect) he asks for redemption. The challenge of all challenges.
Why he feels the need to please his sadistic older brother is beside me, but he presents Abbie with a door or die ultimatum: he must beat the world record for “Pac Man” - which currently sits at the near impossible level of 256 - while staying glued to the couch with no bathroom breaks, no answering the door. Nothing.
For the next 85 minutes, we watch deadpan as he tries to beat the coveted arcade classic. “You’ve got till New Year’s Eve” he’s told, and for those keeping track at home, that’s about six months before all the “Y2K” hysteria, as the early scenes in the film start around July.
So is the minimalism of “Relaxer,” a film about a man who's sitting on a leather couch, playing a video game until the turn of the century. He’s also got to figure out ways to survive in a room that is devoid of food or water. It’s here where Potrykus’s film alters between comedic survival story and real-to-life horror. By the time the third act comes to fruition, “Relaxer” should’ve already won over its intended audience (or they walked out) as the film prevails on the merits it hopes to accomplish. Which is a spastic trip down 90s’ memory lane, while slowly cooking your brain with psychological mind games.
And we can’t leave out Burge who uniquely conveys this quirky premise so adamantly. Bolstered by the will to survive, but with an impulse to prove his brother wrong, Burge is able to make you feel sympathy for his current situation. Amidst all the sweat glistening from his shirtless body (among other bodily fluids) - Burge makes you feel because, at the end of the day, all he really wanted was to make his brother proud.
“Relaxer” is a bizarre, yet special film, which only cements Potrykus as one of cinemas finest young filmmakers working today. He brings forth meaty social commentaries and uses an extremely dark setting to his advantage (the film was made in a friends garage). Not many provocateurs can achieve such a feat, and come out on the other side. I can’t wait to see what he and Burge do next.
No trailer is currently available at this time and the film is set to be released sometime this year.