2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! Back before punk became the watered down, mall-friendly commodity that it is today, it actually had the power to startle. It was loud, nasty and in your face, not to mention scary. Really scary, in some cases. like cutting yourself with a broken bottle and shitting on a microphone scary. Kind of like Koen Mortier’s debut feature, “Ex Drummer.”
Based on the semi-autobiographical cult novel by Belgian literary bad boy Herman Brusselmans, “Ex Dummer” tells the story of Dries (Dries Van Hegen) a famous writer who is recruited by three “handicapped” losers to play drums for their band. The plan is to play one show, a rock festival in Ostend and then disband permanently. While Dries regards the three with equal parts disgust and scorn and acknowledges that their only interest in him is to try to cash in on his fame, he opts to join them because, as his smokin’ hot girlfriend Lio (Dolores Bouckaert) points out, “there might be a good story in it.”
The lead singer of the band is Koen (Norman Baert), a violent misogynist with a lisp strong enough to qualify as a disability. He is virtually incapable of seeing a woman without raping and bludgeoning her, but is actually half-decent at playing the bass. Lead guitarist duties fall to Jan (Gunter Lamoot), a homosexual with a stiff right arm and a mother complex so sick and crippling that Dries decides that it is his real disability (his mother wears a wig because she is bald and they keep his father, who is insane, tied to a bed in the attic). Rounding out the members is Ivan (Sam Louwyck), who is deaf. He is also a foul drug addict who likes to scream at and abuse his wife (Nancy Denijs) for letting their two year old daughter wander around in soiled diapers while they all snort coke.
While Dries does consider himself above these three shining examples of humanity, he isn’t exactly the most sympathetic protagonist either. He doesn’t care, at any point, that he is using them just as much, if not more than, they are using him. And his contempt isn’t limited to them, Dries is equally appalled by the bourgeois sluts who knock on his door because they read his books. But despite his carefully crafted veneer of cynical detachment, there is something incredibly compelling about Dries, especially as portrayed by Van Hegen. He is able to bully all three band numbers to different degrees and isn’t afraid to call them on their own contributions to their terrible lots in life. He also isn’t afraid to use brute physical force when necessary.
Mortier’s direction manages to be both brutal and beautiful; a full frontal assault that you cannot look away from. The film starts out feeling a bit like a Belgian version of “Trainspotting” complete with football (soccer) brawls, but quickly morphs into something even more jarring and nasty. Comparisons to Gasper Noe and Michael Haneke are inevitable, but the energy and wholeness of the vision ensure that “Ex Drummer” is entirely its own animal. One of those rare films that still manages to haunt you long after you leave the theatre, for people who like that kind of thing.