Cuck (2 stars)


Languishing in the shadow of the superior Joker, Rob Lambert's portrait of an incel fails to impress

Rob Lambert's directorial debut about a bigoted incel, co-written with Joe Varkle, is a predictably grubby and violent character study that acts as an allegory for the more dog-eat-dog nature of the American dream in the era of Donald Trump's presidency. Zachary Ray Sherman turns in a committed performance as the desperately angry and overweight alt-right vlogger Ronnie in a film whose similarities to Todd Phillips' Joker are glaring (they were written around the same time) as are its aspirations to mimic the claustrophobic and manic tone of Scorsese's Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Cuck takes aim at and generates sympathy for Ronnie, portraying him both as his own worst enemy and someone who's manipulated by xenophobic propaganda and conspiracy theorists. He's a man already at rock bottom, through wilful ignorance – he refuses to educate himself and shuns experts in favour of a rising tide of hatred of things he doesn't fully understand – and frustration at not being able to find post-prison employment and his failure to pass the psych evaluation for military service. Ronnie spends his days caring for his elderly mother (Sally Kirkland) and creating videos for his channel, until he becomes embroiled in a local porn business, where he acts as the cuck (a man who is degraded sexually for not embodying traditional ideas of masculinity or machismo).

Lambert has crafted a provocative first film, that loses credibility as soon as it moves away from the squalid, contained quarters where Ronnie relentlessly masturbates, accompanied by an impressively oppressive score by Room8. The people he meets and works with are merely stereotypes, whose motivations are flimsily drawn. From the unbelievable date Ronnie goes on with a feminist, to the ageing porn star and celebrity alt-right blogger, they are all maddeningly representational, rather than fleshed-out human beings. Content to skim the surface, subtlety is forgotten in this portrait of an extremist loner that ultimately adds up to a whole lot of jizz.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 17 Apr.