Berlinale 2022 review: Flux Gourmet (Peter Strickland)

Flux Gourmet is an absolute triumph, best enjoyed by those who accept that Strickland’s work is undeniably an acquired taste, but one that offers a truly unforgettable experience, one that may even tempt us to go back for a second serving.”

Peter Strickland has a taste for chaos, as made evident by his small but significant body of work, which has seen him flourish into one of the more fascinating auteurs working in contemporary independent horror. This sentiment takes on additional meaning when we look at the director’s most recent offering, the disquieting but deliciously bizarre Flux Gourmet, which follows a group of artists as they take up residence in a lavish countryside manor designed as an incubator for experimental art projects. They specialize in “sonic catering”, whereby they use food as a tool of sensory nourishment (or rather, forthright terror) rather than as a source of nutrition. All this under the careful guidance of the institute’s eccentric director, who continuously pushes them past the point of sanity to reach the demented enlightenment that will come from their final performance at the end of their stay. Disturbing secrets are lurking in every orifice of this film, with Strickland proving that his command of his craft has yet to wane. He touches on some of the more terrifyingly carnivalesque aspects of human nature, exploring the esoteric perversions of sensory stimulation, and ultimately aiming to both entertain and bewilder viewers who dare to take him up on the offer to venture deep into the darker side of human desire.

As we have come to expect from the director it is impossible to categorize Flux Gourmet, since it is constructed from fragments of a range of genres, all filtered through Strickland’s distinctively peculiar but inventive gaze. Any attempt to define it through a particular genre’s standards is bound to result in even more confusion, since the director does not merely challenge conventions, he outright disregards them, and instead crafts a film that is best viewed as occurring at the intersection between experimental theatre, dark comedy and psychological horror, borrowing liberally from each one. The film functions as a satirical glimpse into the world of art through the eyes of a total outsider, brought into the fray as an observer tasked with capturing the rituals of some of the more pompous disciples of an overarching artistic manifesto. We have often seen Strickland focusing on the motif of an outsider gradually assimilating into a world governed by a particular artistic or scientific curiosity, to the point where they begin to question whether they are slowly becoming art projects in their own right. Flux Gourmet treads similar ground to the director’s previous work, capturing the intensely deviant desires of a group of vaguely vampiric figures who use every opportunity to satiate their cravings through art and performance, which become increasingly more disturbing the further we attempt to decode the hidden meanings throughout this bizarre but hypnotic satire.

Both visually and narratively Strickland’s work stimulates (or rather, intensely provokes) our most primordial urges, sending the viewer into a spiral of very intentional existential despair. Nothing works in quite the way it should in the worlds Strickland constructs, and Flux Gourmet continues this trend, evoking the feeling of a lucid nightmare, one that is simultaneously hilarious and deeply unsettling. The deliberately stilted humour adds nuance to the narrative and refines the more unsettling qualities that persist throughout the film, proving that every choice was intentional. The director continues to display his fervent appetite for destruction, using the theme of food (which is normally one of the great comforts of life) as a tool to horrify, disturbing conventions in a way that plays to every one of our senses. He is paying attention to the smallest and most seemingly inconsequential details and exploiting them for the sake of polarizing the audience, where even those who are comfortably accustomed to the director’s bizarre artistic practices and unique perspective on artistic expression may not know what to expect when leaping into this world, which is unlike anything we are likely to find in modern horror.

Flux Gourmet is built on getting a response from the viewer, and it successfully elicits the most visceral responses through its depiction of the carnal hunger these characters possess in relation to their art. It is often extremely difficult to predict where this film is headed, with the process entailing understanding (and ultimately just accepting) that Strickland’s vision is far from conventional. Instead of crafting the film by recognizable narrative standards, he goes in search of horror in more unexpected places, and manages to extract disturbing material from some surprising sources. Not necessarily a film that aims to frighten the viewer, but rather deeply unsettle through profound discomfort, Flux Gourmet is indebted to the feeling of entrapment that the director carefully constructs as the primary atmospheric thrust of the film, built on a distinctive control of tone. Escape from this world is both futile and impossible, and much like the characters in the film, we soon realize that we are trapped in this never-ending surrealist labyrinth, where humour is terrifying and fear is almost comforting, especially in comparison to some of the more questionable evocations of our sensory perceptions, which are in a permanent state of alarm as a result of the deranged image of the world presented here.

Flux Gourmet is best described as creatively repulsive, and Strickland certainly does not want the viewer to feel any comfort while watching the film, instead relishing the opportunity to find new ways to repel us without crossing the boundaries of decency, secure in the knowledge that he has found new ways to disrupt conventions. It is provocative to the point of being nearly nauseating, especially in how the thematic content orbits around an exploration of the depraved desires often used as justification to create disquieting art. Through this darkly comical, deeply disturbing voyage into the most deranged recesses of the human psyche, the director reaches a new level of revulsion, setting the standard for films that occur at the perfect intersection between sophisticated and abhorrent. Anchored by yet another brilliant ensemble of actors that show their willingness to surrender to the director’s enigmatic vision, and produced with sincere artistic integrity that almost betrays the repulsive roots of the narrative (which is focused on the use of repugnance as a form of artistic expression), Flux Gourmet is an absolute triumph, best enjoyed by those who accept that Strickland’s work is undeniably an acquired taste, but one that offers a truly unforgettable experience, one that may even tempt us to go back for a second serving.