Shakespeare's Sh*tstorm

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shakespeare's Sh*tstorm
"Kaufman remains one of the sharpest interpreters of Shakespeare out there.."

"You taught me language; and my profit on't is, I know how to curse," said Caliban once, in a mysterious land, far away. Perhaps it was New Jersey.

Inevitably one of the most talked-about films at Fantasia 2020, this is one which, though you may be watching at home, you should not attempt to watch whilst eating. When Lloyd Kaufman talks about a shitstorm, he means it literally, and this reworking of Shakespeare's finest play sees his scheming Prospero blight a ship sailing close to the shores of Tromaville through the judicious employment of whale laxative. Upgraded (not for the first time) from magician to scientist, and aided by his beautiful, blind daughter Miranda (Kate McGarrigle), he is determined to have his revenge on the Big Pharma company that sabotaged his career.

"Let it alone, thou fool; it is but trash," is a common sentiment one encounters on approaching Troma films as a critic, but there's a lot going on here, and Kaufman remains one of the sharpest interpreters of Shakespeare out there. It's one thing to focus on the poetry, tragedy and romance of the Bard's work, but these are balanced measure for measure by the shit jokes (and the jokes about shit), which deserve attention too. Indeed, Shakespeare himself (Frazer Brown), who makes an appearance as part of the chorus, fits in perfectly with this merry romp.

The outstanding quality of the original Tempest is its capacity to bridge comedy and tragedy so fluidly that one ceases to recognise a distinction. This is something that Kaufman understands well, and here he serves up a side order of political commentary as well. It isn't all successful. The concepts of triggering and safe space are misused here just as they are in popular media, and whilst it's fair to note that many of the young activists he criticises here misuse them too, there is no hint of enlightenment. A flashback in which Prospero, booed by a crowd for inadvertent political incorrectness, protests, "I was trying to help you!" sounds very much like the personal lament of an ageing man struggling to keep up with a changing culture. Yet it's clear that he grasps the difference between people directly affected by prejudice and overenthusiastic, counterproductive allies, particularly in his handling of Caliban's scenes. He also sets aside satire entirely in order to indulge his audience with the unalloyed pleasure of watching Caliban (Monique Dupree) - a gorgeously toned black woman - beat the shit out of flabby white boy Ferdinand (Erin Patrick Miller).

It wouldn't be Troma without ill-considered teen romance, so the connection between Ferdinand and Miranda gets a lot of attention. Shakespeare would probably have loved to see it handled this earthily, full of groundling appeal. If you now beheld them, your affections would become tender indeed. This also provides some light relief in between scenes of scheming and plotting, with not just Prospero but also some of his rivals (one of whom is also played by Kaufman) aiming to assassinate the had of the company. Unbeknownst to those rivals, however, the drug that they have been freely consuming ever since they arrived at his party is about to start doing something very strange to their bodies, leading to a spectacular climax which has clearly consumed most of the budget and which echoes the work of Brian Yuzna.

Clearly made on a bigger budget than usual overall (you'll be pleased to hear that this doesn't improve the quality of the other special effects), this is a tremendously self-indulgent film, and every much-loved Troma trope finds a place in it. The effect is a bit like being presented with a vast array of sticky cakes when one has the munchies - the temptation is to keep on gorging long after one begins to feel ill. Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll are here in abundance, the costumes are magnificent, the rhyming couplets are liberally distributed and there's an underlying sweetness about the whole thing that makes its failings easy to forgive. Though it never quite attains the heights of Tromeo & Juliet, it is certainly something rich and strange.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2020
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Shakespeare's Sh*tstorm packshot
Troma takes on The Tempest, against the backdrop of the US opioid crisis.

Director: Lloyd Kaufman

Writer: Brandon Bassham, Lloyd Kaufman, Gabriel Friedman and Frazer Brown, based on the play by William Shakespeare

Starring: Lloyd Kaufman, Erin Patrick Miller, Abraham Sparrow, Kate McGarrigle, Amanda Flowers

Year: 2020

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Fantasia 2020

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