Ours is the age of the poisonous neologism. Never have so many words been spawned to express disdain and hatred, like a speckled fungus crawling up a shower curtain: ‘incel’, ‘snowflake’, ‘libtard’, ‘feminazi’, and our very own ‘Brexit’.
‘Cuck’ has two uses: one in politics, where it denigrates liberals, and the other in pornography, where it refers to the cuckold – a fantasy that depends on humiliation. It is Cuck writers Rob Lambert and Joe Varkle’s conceit that Ronnie (Zachary Ray Sherman) is both one and the other. Imagine if there was a radical political party called the Taxi Drivers and Travis Bickle was both a Taxi Driver and a taxi driver. See?
Although Martin Scorsese’s 1976 portrait of “God’s lonely man” serves as something of a template, Ronnie is far less attractive. He lives with his mother (Sally Kirkland) who is sickly and needy; he’s been refused by the army and is in awe of his dead dad. He makes uninspiring vlogs of his alt-right views, camcorded jeremiads against the usual hate figures: immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, women, Muslims, the media and cucks.
Humiliation upon humiliation is heaped on him. He gets a job but at a convenience store run by a Muslim, Abbas (David Diann); a date goes predictably wrong and even the guys at the gun range start to diss him for wearing his dad’s uniform. One bright silver lining seems to appear in the form of neighbour Candy (Monique Parent), who with her husband Bill (Timothy V. Murphy), invites him to party with them. And this where the other meaning of “cuck” comes (literally) into play.
Cuck had the misfortune of being released in the same week as Joker and didn’t stand a chance against the DCU behemoth. But even so, this low budget indie drama – though it attempts to deal with incel culture in a more overtly political way – is so heavy-handed that there’s barely any reason to watch after the first thirty minutes. We know where it’s all going: nagging mother (check), the unobtainable object of lust (check). Could it be that by accepting so readily the stereotype of this kind of character we end up if not justifying then normalising them?
The performances are excellent throughout and Sherman almost manages to gain your sympathy as the wounded loser before squandering it all again. Nick Matthews’ camera gives everything the yellowish glow of warm urine. It feels at times like the screen is sticky. But ultimately, though it hints at moments of wit, Cuck never feels serious enough to be a convincing character study and not garish enough to head into genre territory. Ultimately, this sordid tale feels both real and inconsequential.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty