Do not, under any circumstances, think that Lucas Heyne’s Mope is going to be a comedy. The title card, reading “this actually happened,” might give the impression — a la Fargo’s famous epigraph — that this is a fictional tale masquerading as a tragicomic reality.
In truth, Heyne’s story of Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) and their sad experiences and dire end as part of the low-budget fetish porn world of Eric (Brian Huskey) and his company, Ultima DVD, is real. You can read all about it at various “holy shit” clickbait websites, but the tagline sums it all up pretty well: “Two mopes, the lowest-level male performers in the porn industry, set their sights on an impossible dream.”
I honestly don’t know how to describe this movie other than maybe watching it might not be the best idea if trauma and mental illness mess you up. Mope is nasty. A bunch of dudes marching into a room, repeatedly chanting “Bukkake!” at the film’s outset is, again, another indicator that Heyne’s movie might be kind of wacky. It’s not. The people portrayed in the movie, and especially Steve, are all very troubled individuals operating in a world where things don’t operate as we are used to. It’s a surreality which disorients while also pushing you away as it tries to lure you in.
This movie smells like shame that needs to take a shower. It’s the story of Steve and Tom, two guys who hope to break into the porn industry, but end up beating off onto a woman’s face, or getting kicked in the balls, or cleaning dildos in a big plastic tub, or detailing a blow-up doll with a toothbrush, or scrubbing shit off a concrete floor. The list goes on and on, in terms of the degradation and humiliation the pair of friends are willing to endure in hopes of possibly breaking into the mainstream porn world.
Men are horrible in this film. The women are one step above being an interchangeable series of holes for dudes to cum into. The only saving grace is that the absolute best line in Mope, one which utterly encapsulates the utterly sticky nihilism of Heyne’s movie , is delivered by a woman.
When Steve is posing with one of the women as part of a promo shoot, he ejaculates. When the woman discovers that he came when shooting stills, she rightfully loses her temper, because she’s not on birth control. As she storms out of the room, she tells Eric, “You better pay my kill fee.”
That’s how dark this movie is. Mope has elements of comedy, especially as Chris (Max Adler) shows the newly-hired Steve and Tom around the studio where they’ll be working and living. It’s one of those Goodfellas-style introductions to the characters, as well as showing just how run-down and nasty the Ultima environs are.
Huskey’s fantastic at walking the line between sleazebag and exasperated realist, and might be the movie’s one redeeming character, in that he has absolutely no illusions as to what he’s doing and what he represents. When dropping the camcorder is a massive, possibly company-ending catastrophe, you understand just how close to the edge this man is.
Eric’s also a massive sleazebag who signs Steve’s drug-addicted “girlfriend” and proceeds to use her as part of an anal cuckolding scene, despite the fact that she requires alcohol in order to get through it, so that’s kind of another indicator of what sort of film we’re dealing with here. Mope is, in the end, a film which is an absolutely brutal experience.
By the time you’ve actually seen Adam — the real-life Adam — in a video of his fall from a cliff after a confrontation with police, in the wake of his brutal attack on the employees of Ultima after he was fired, wherein you’re essentially watching a man really die, you’re so used up, it barely registers that the film’s switched from cinema to reality. Heyne, with Mope, so thoroughly desensitizes the viewer that the actual death footage of the person portrayed within the film you just watched doesn’t seem like the worst thing you’ve watched.
I haven’t felt this awful since I saw Requiem for a Dream.