Ex Drummer

Belgium | 2007 | Directed by Koen Mortier

Logline: A manipulative and cynical writer joins a desperate punk band under the pretence he is as handicapped as the other three, when the reality is he simply wants to shake up his complacent existence and disturb theirs.

You want to upset your cinematic sensibilities, then leave it to the wayward Europeans to throw a spanner in the works, and they’ll twist the tool for all its worth, prizing the cogs apart with malicious and sordid glee, yet maintain a compelling edge of pure cinema so you can’t tear your eyes from the screen.

For his feature debut Koen Mortier tackles the angry, belligerent, contentious novel by Herman Brusselmans and fuses his own misanthropic perspective to the narrative delivering a furious portrait of dysfunctional machismo and sociopathic chaos. It’s also a movie that frequently swerves from the sincerely grotesque to the unexpectedly provocative, and on rare occasion lingers on an image of isolated beauty such as a hazy sunrise.

Ex Drummer is a movie of fractured emotions and jagged rhythms, surging backwards as it does at film’s start, and careening forward in slow motion as it does at film’s end. It’s a difficult movie to find empathy within as none of the leads characters are likeable; they’re unhinged, misogynist, or violent; all of them obnoxious or reprehensible in some way. Even Dries (Dries Van Hagen), the chain-smoking writer pontificating philosophically, seduced by the anarchic possibilities within the punk rock scene, is a volatile and unpleasant man. He’s an opportunist, and he milks the moment, then spits in its face.

When he’s in his squalid apartment lead singer and guitarist Koen can only exist upside down, walking and sleeping on the ceiling. It’s very strange and surreal. Rhythm guitarist Ivan lives with a junkie wife and their toddler in just as squalid conditions. Ivan is at the end of his tether. Bassist Jan has a bung arm, grapples with homosexuality, and lives with his insane pa and butch ma. Dries languishes in a stylish high rise apartment with his bisexual girlfriend Lio (Dolores Bouckaert) and muses about the late King of Belgium.

With Dries on board as drummer (although he’s never been one) The Feminists enter a battle of the bands competing against rival rockers Henry Mulisch who have Big Dick (Jan Hammencker) as front man, a ferocious toad with a cock as long and thick as a baby’s forearm clutching a peach (in the movie’s most disturbing – but morbidly funny – scene Big Dick sodomizes a male groupie in the bar toilets). Another band competing are called Six Million Jews. The humour is as vulgar and crass as it is darkly hilarious.

Dries is the evil god descending into the village to cause upheaval amidst the struggling peasants. His intelligent analysis rivals their pathetic knee-jerk reactions just as their insolence threatens his complicity. The stew brews to boiling point and explodes in a violent frenzy. Koen Mortier wants to shock with moments of graphic sex and violence, yet a dark fascination seethes under the surface. This is a brutal study of the grim determination of those that lay in the gutter and stare up at the stars.

Sweat seeps, saliva dribbles, tears run, blood flows. Ex Drummer barks loud, bites savagely, wags its tail furiously. Rock and fucking roll. Enter at your own risk. Leave your inhibitions and sensibilities at the back door.