Filmmaker Peter Strickland has developed a shorthand for horror and tension in his cinematic oeuvre with a fetishistic soundscape of food, objects and even the idiosyncrasies of characters. His latest film, Flux Gourmet, sardonically offers a dual perspective on food as pleasure and pain.
A troupe of culinary artists are commissioned by an exclusive workshop, run by the prim and proper Jan (Gwendoline Christie), to develop their theatrical performances for public viewing. The collective, led by the headstrong Elle (Fatma Mohamed) and sound engineers Lamina (Ariane Labed) and Billy (Asa Butterfield), utilise vegetables and cooking utensils as instruments. These props alone invoke the trademark squeamishness of Strickland but also heighten the combative relationships between characters.
The title adopts a literal meaning, too, through its narrator and fledgling writer Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), who accompanies the group during their residency to document the events that unfold. His timid personality is exacerbated by gastrointestinal issues caused by social embarrassment, and the wafts of bubbling, steaming food certainly do not help. These continuous bowel movements he endures almost exaggerate the smells and taste of food that make the audience feel just as queasy.
To treat his flatulence issues, Stones seeks the medical guidance of resident Dr Glock (Richard Bremner), whose piercing gaze and almost Shakespearean vernacular are equally unsettling and threatening. Glock frequently references classic literature and berates his patient when he does not recognise quotes.
Although Stones retreats to the bathroom for hours on end and offers little conversation, his initial role as onlooker and note-taker represents the audience’s perspective as he soaks in the peculiarities around him. While initially reticent, his burgeoning interest in the collective’s work culminates in him volunteering to perform his bouts of intestinal misfortune in the shows. Strickland here offers a complex mix of the visual sumptuousness of the food, enmeshed with backstage orgy’s and the effluviant stench that Stones suffers, becoming an auditory and olfactory assault on the senses.
Thematically, Flux Gourmet is propelled when Elle combats verbally with Jan, who gently proposes certain artistic compromises to make performances more palatable. Elle is steadfast in signifying the oppression of women in the domestic space, all the while plotting manipulation against her authoritarian counterpart. Here, the shifting power dynamics complicate when Jan becomes sexually involved with Billy to garner his allegiance in decision-making.
While the culinary performances are vividly pronounced, with symmetrical staging and pulsating sounds that escalate in intensity, themes are muddied by undeveloped characters whom the audience only gets a glimpse into with expository interviews or dinner speeches.
Strickland’s ignition point is an immersive sonic experience with whimsical visual flurries that will undoubtedly stick with you.