Butt Boy first published by SciFiNow
As tech company manager Rick Sanders (Austin Lewis) leads his staff in a peppy motivational session at the beginning of Butt Boy, the camera circles to one man who stands out from his co-workers, a craggy island of disconsolate ennui floating in a sea of happy-clappy mirth. Played by the film’s director and (with Ryan Koch) co-writer Tyler Cornack, this is clock-watching drone Chip Gutchell, whose very forename marks his status as a mere cog in the machine, and whose dissatisfaction in the work place is matched by joyless, largely sexless life at home with wife Anne (Shelby Dash) and baby son Marty (Sol Lane). Dull, depressed, and at the point in his midlife where crisis typically takes over and male disease can start to set in, Chip visits a doctor for his first routine prostate examination and, as the doctor digitally probes his rectum, experiences a kind of pleasure that he had forgotten existed. So begins an escalating spate of furtive butt-based insertions that culminate in a child’s disappearance and a suicide attempt.
Nine years later, Chip is keeping his colonic compulsions in check and has become a veteran member of his local AA chapter. Yet shortly after he is made sponsor to alcoholic police detective Russel Fox (Tyler Rice), Chip has a relapse, leading to another missing child, and a dogged investigation led by Russel, who looks, as Chip correctly observes, “like every TV detective ever”. In pursuit of his suspect and increasingly finding that nobody will believe his theory of what is going on, the isolated, desperate Russel will also give in to temptation and recommence the illicit ingestion of what he craves. Accordingly, Cornack’s film is a study of addiction, and of the gaping emptiness that middle-aged men feel the need to fill with their poison of choice. It is also, of course, a physics-defying superhero (or maybe monster) movie about a man who serially stuffs his backside with objects – both inanimate and animate – that could not possibly fit inside him, and keeps them there through the sheer power of his own anal retentiveness.
Part of what makes Butt Boy – expanded from Cornack’s 2016 short for TV’s Tiny Cinema – so funny is that its inherently preposterous premise is played utterly straight. As Russel and Chip, two tight-wound men of a certain age, circle each other and square off, we may as well be watching a Heat-like confrontation of cop and criminal. DP William Morean’s choice of neon lighting (all subdued blues, reds and yellows), and his lovingly framed wide and mid shots, wrap all the absurdity in a slick, sombre package of moody hyperrealism that is more suggestive of a Michael Mann or David Fincher thriller than of an a(s)sinine comedy. Cornack and Koch’s synth score would also be more at home in an Eighties crime flick than in a surrealist film about a miserable man’s all-consuming arsehole.
Like David Cronenberg’s The Naked Lunch (1991), like Jacob Vaughan’s Bad Milo! (2013), like Roberto San Sebastían’s Night of the Virgin (2016) and like Flying Lotus’ Kuso (2017), Cornack’s film comes with an anal fixation – although perhaps a better way of thinking about it might be as the ass-backward male counterpart to Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ pica-focused Swallow (2019). For Chip’s affliction is all at once inverted eating disorder and psychosomatic manifestation of a deep, insatiable yearning for something beyond what life, in all its banality, usually has to offer. In a sense, that is exactly what Butt Boy delivers, as it takes viewers to a dank, dark inner space, familiar yet thoroughly defamiliarised, through which the film’s final payload will eventually be forced out. These are deranged, disgusting, delirious rites of (back) passage, breaking down into a singular original that just has to be seen (but advisedly not smelt) to be believed. It may be hard to digest, it may even end up splattering the symbols of America’s work and home life in a sordid shower of blood, guts and who knows what else – but by any analysis, Butt Boy is the shit.
Strap: Tyler Cornack’s colonic comedy inserts an unusually anal-retentive man into a criminal scenario, for transgressive rites of (back) passage.
© Anton Bitel