Lo-fi auteur Joel Potrykus, the filmmaker behind great indies such as Buzzard, The Alchemist Cookbook and Relaxer, burst onto the scene with his 2013 narrative debut Ape with righteous vigor. That vigor finds a perfect outlet in a story of disaffection in the soul-sucking world of Michigan. Factory 25 (partnered with OCN Distribution) brings Potrykus’ debut to Blu-ray with a release that offers the filmmaker’s first short film with collaborator Joshua Burge, plus a nice collection of special features to dig into. This release comes Recommended.
Full disclosure: I’m already fully in the tank for the films of Joel Potrykus. His work was not only unavoidable when I interned at Oscilloscope Laboratories in 2015, but it was also the main reason why I sought to intern for Oscilloscope. His 2014 feature Buzzard was the kind of anxious and angry slice of Americana that I immediately felt a kinship toward, yet what set Potrykus apart was how those powerful emotions were portrayed through absolute deadpan, skid-row comedy. From the most destitute one-liners came deep, soulful relief. The kind that comes when you’re comfortable with whatever shitty situation you’re in.
In Ape, Potrykus’ frequent collaborator Joshua Burge stars as Trevor Newandyke, a struggling comedian and a pyromaniac. Trevor has been bombing on stage constantly, and soon he starts bombing at real life too. But why try to feel better when you can turn inward, throw on your headphones that are blaring the angriest, loudest music possible and maybe light some shit on fire? It’s the kind of angry lashing out that we see represented in Todd Philips’ 2019 prestige blockbuster Joker. Potrykus just knew how to capture that disaffection better than the dude who made Old School.
It’s also very rare for a filmmaker to find the look they so eagerly go after, yet Potrykus does so on a budget of $2,500 and a Canon EOS 60D that perfectly captures the kind of drained-out depressing vibe that can only be found in Michigan during the brief period where summer creeps through. Both are the perfect location for such a dry, deadpan story and the right generation of camera tech to capture it.
What’s so striking about Ape is how much its able to achieve despite staying pretty loose in terms of plotting. Sure, we’re following Trevor the entire time as he keeps getting beaten down by hecklers, dudes asking for money outside of convenience stores, the cable company and pretty much every person he comes into contact with. But that anger he turns inward stays that way. Self-destruction is on his mind, standing in stark contrast to the other disaffected youth dramas that simply want to destroy anything and everything. That lonely pain gets pushed to the stage and given the harshest spotlight possible. The effect on me has grown from oddly affecting to full-on warmth. Outsider art rarely feels this good.
If you find yourself enjoying Ape, I highly recommend checking out all of Potrykus’ other features as well. The indie darling has created a tableau of wry humans living in destitution and created beautiful, humorous art from it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Throw those headphones on and get ready to blast some tunes in Ape with Factory 25’s one-disc (BD-50) Blu-ray release that comes housed in a clear Amaray case with reversible sleeve art and a 25-page booklet. The case is housed within a limited-edition slipcover (only available on VinegarSyndrome.com) as well. The BD-50 disc boots up to a menu screen with a clip of Joshua Burge from the film playing on a loop, with options to play the film, select the short film Coyote, browse scenes, explore special features, watch the Ape trailer and choose commentaries and/or subtitles.
As mentioned earlier, it’s very rare that a filmmaker finds the equipment to perfectly execute their vision, but the contrast-fueled look that the Canon EOS 60D can emulate really matches the intent. And I’m glad to report that this presentation is very true to the source. No signs of tinkering or noise reduction seem to have been applied here, leaving the bare-yet-calculated aesthetic looking better than ever at home. No damage to note throughout the presentation either. This is a very pleasing presentation that capably handles the lo-fi look of the film without removing just how homegrown and handmade it can feel at times.
Ape is presented here with a Dolby Digital Stereo track that sounds crystal clear despite the limited range offered by the recording equipment. Foley effects are resolved nicely throughout, like the laugh tracks used during Trevor’s stand-up performances. A nice balance is achieved between the harsher rock music and loud dialogue that comes through during the louder scenes of the film, too.
Factory 25 has packed this new release of Ape with a bunch of featurettes that, while they may not add up to the most runtime, round out the key feature with great context colored in by the filmmakers involved. In particular, the inclusion of Joel Potrykus’ short film Coyote should be heralded by itself. Shot on 8mm and offering the first collab between Potrykus and Burge, the film offers much more than just the start of a great creative partnership; it gives us a taste of the kind of nihilism, disaffection and humor we’re about to be in for throughout Potrykus’ filmography. He luckily has the talent to continually refine those things.
Worth noting is the 25-page booklet with writings by Burge and Potrykus as well. Both of these creative minds are still so impassioned and excited by the work they did together, and that shows clearly here. Also included are some rejected jokes from Ape in the booklet.
Joel Potrykus’ first narrative feature announced the arrival of a powerful filmmaking voice, and Factory 25 has rightfully presented Ape in all of its glory and with some added accoutrement. With a pleasing presentation and an attached booklet as well, this Blu-ray release comes Recommended.