Friday, November 13, 2020


Joel Potrykus

The year is 1999 and the world is on the precipice of  theY2K disaster. Cam (David Dastmalchian) is constantly taunting his younger brother, Abbie (Joshua Burge) into completing challenges. These range from drinking a gallon of milk in an hour to glitching a level on a game. Abbie has always failed, and his brother seems to take delight in torturing him. Finally, Cam has issued a challenge from a Nintendo Power magazine; Beat the fabled level 256 on Pac-Man without leaving the couch and before Cam returns from a trip. Abbie is bound and determined to beat this challenge, even if he has to bend reality to do it.

How did they film in my workroom?

Relaxer is a beautiful example of the line that runs between comedy and horror. It is an absurdist tale that never takes its increasingly ridiculous story as anything less than serious. This is why it works; it stays invested in its tiny world and never steps back to comment on how potentially silly it all is. It also takes careful steps in imbuing its would-be hero with a level of tragedy that drives a darker narrative just underneath the surface. Abbie takes a complete journey as a person, yet we never leave his tiny room. 

Abbie is an interesting central character. We can tell right away that he has a very damaging past. Just how damaging becomes more and more horrific as the story goes on. It becomes the fulcrum on which the story moves back forth from absurd comedy to absurd tragedy. Abbie is constantly taken advantage of by his older brother Cam and it is infuriating and difficult to watch. When Cam finally tasks Abbie with reaching the impossible level 256 on Pac-Man, we can’t help but root for him. We want Abbie to get up off the couch, step out from the squalor and realize his delusions, but they are too powerful, and that direct method of escape just isn’t within his grasp. He must find another way out and we are drawn into that escape. Is it real? Does it matter by the end?

This is easily the stickiest movie I've seen all year.

Despite being confined to a single location and a single piece of furniture, Relaxer has a marvelous look. The apartment is a tribute to grungy squalor. It feels like many people’s first apartment or dorm room filled with barely any furniture, grimy walls, full of food wrappers, and spotted with graffiti. It is an uncomfortable space and we are confined to it along with our protagonist. The setting becomes as much of an endurance test for the audience as it is for Abbie.

Relaxer is a bizarre black comedy with plenty of uncomfortable humor and some truly astounding plot turns by the third act. It also has a solid emotional core as we watch Abbie struggle with a lot in life and try to overcome all the issues that he has been saddled with. It all concludes with an ambiguously chilling ending that makes Relaxer a great little film and a must for the lover of strange movies.

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