Who says Belgium is all chocolates and canals? Cocaine and cruelty more like, according to Koen Mortier’s adaptation of Herman Brusselmans’ typically explicit and salacious novel. Charting in documentary-style a few days in the lives of a ageing heavy punk outfit’s various delinquents, Ex Drummer is as gratuitous and confrontational a story as you’re likely to come across.

Popular novelist Dries is approached by three vitriolic misfits seeking a drummer to complete their line-up in time for an upcoming local battle of the bands. Dries’ inability to play the drums appeals: each of The Feminists must have a handicap, apparently. Tempted by the chance to spend time in a ghastly Ostend underworld, examine the plight of some real down-and-outs, and perhaps gain inspiration, Dries agrees to abandon his expensive studio flat for a few days.

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The shocking lives of Dries’ fellow Feminists are quickly displayed. Singer de Geyter (Norman Baert) violently assaults women in his flat in between casual sex with the fat, bald, bitchy mother of homosexual bassist Verbeek (Gunter Lamoot), who also has an invalid father with a bed for a toilet. Deaf guitar-player Van Dorpe (Sam Louwyck) meanwhile lives in terrible squalor with a junkie wife and young child. All three are ugly, angry and jobless losers, poor comparisons with the handsome, leather-jacketed and ever-cool Dries.

The supporting cast includes a rival band singer with a huge penis, his unsuspecting gay victim and Dries’ threesome-loving wife. With such an ensemble, Ex-Drummer can hardly fail to be a relentlessly macabre cocktail of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, with battery, rape, murder and fervent hatred thrown in for good measure. Misogyny is on tap, too, aided by an abundance of testosterone - females are few and far between, and the main one suffers alopecia.

Dries is our guide through this blood-spattered pocket of human life, a fleck of normality and empathy in this darkest of worlds. And there’s a certain delight in watching him wrestle control – ordering the flatulent and disgusting Mother Verbeek around, intimidating de Geyter and committing Van Dorpe to a psychological unit. Slowly, using intelligence and purpose the others can only dream of, he assumes authority over his troops.

For all that, grim deeds still arrive more rapidly than The Feminist’s lamentable anthems as the night of reckoning looms. Like a classic punk song, Mortier swells and tenses his film towards inevitable total anarchy, an eruption of lower-class rage found in all the best Sex Pistols and Clash songs. But where Johnny and Joe had a lurking intelligence, Dries’ fellow protagonists offer only stupidity and rage, as a shockingly morose finale demonstrates.

Isolated among the X-rated stuff are serener moments and artier, subtler concerns. In a neat touch, Dries narrates his story to camera, giving proceedings a thankfully detached, documentary feel. Eerily, many deceased characters are granted a final few words’ confession, most still unaware of their multiple flaws. De Geyter is often seen upside down, as though he walks on the roof. Dries enjoys pondering both the King of Siam legend and the recent death of Belgium’s president, bringing up each topic regularly.

These whimsical, more cerebral stylings are welcome; Mortier’s movie is otherwise a vicious, constant assault on our senses and sensibilities. Ex-Drummer’s headlines will inevitably focus on this orgiastic violence, and rightly so – but let it also be said that this film is as compelling and fearsomely unique as it is overly obscene.

Reviewed on: 06 Mar 2008
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Ex Drummer packshot
A group of punk misfits ask a famous novelist to join their band... despite the fact he can't play, only to find their plans spiralling out of control.
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Director: Koen Mortier

Writer: Koen Mortier, based on the book by Herman Brusselmans

Starring: Dries Vanhegen, Norman Baert, Sam Louwyck, Gunter Lamoot

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium

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