REVIEW: Butt Boy (2019)

dir. Tyler Cornack.

The setup for Butt Boy reads like a bad joke: following his first prostrate exam, IT engineer Chip Gutchel (writer/director Cornack) becomes obsessed with inserting objects into his anus, progressing from soap to animals and ultimately small children. Overcome with remorse at how his voracious kink is hurting others, he tries to go clean: but as his compulsion spirals out of control Gutchel draws the attention of recovering alcoholic Detective Fox (Tyler Rice), and the cop begins to close in.

If this all sounds like a simple slice of sleaze-ploitation, the surprise is in how straight Cornack plays it. Much like Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999) – another film about absorbing people into one’s body, albeit through a different orifice – the premise is absurd yet acts as an unlikely playground for existential discourse. So whereas Jonze’s interest was in fragmented identity politics, loneliness and sexual desire, Cornack is instead focused on the prison of addiction.

Motif’s of confinement and concealment abound, sweaty and claustrophobic. This is most obvious in the various items Gutchel hides within himself – reaching its apex in what is sure to be a divisive final act – but also in the way he conceals himself through more conventional obfuscation: keeping secrets from his family, friends and co-workers through lies, deceit and shame.

For Gutchel is a man out of control: at war with his nature, balancing a public facade against internal desires he knows to be deviant but cannot resist. There have been some criticisms that the film is homophobic, but this perhaps misunderstands Gutchel: despite his penchant for rectal play and the film’s title he is heterosexual, though the involvement of children in his fetish codes him as a paedophile.

This of course presents its own challenges, as some might (legitimately) argue that having a sex offender as a lead character is problematic when the laughs are played so broad. And no doubt the film at times struggles with tone, balancing its fantastical conceit and serious themes with moments of lavatorial grotesquery. However it is interesting that gross-out set-pieces are not as frequent as punters might expect, the focus instead remaining on the twin figures of Gutchel and Fox as addicts trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy whilst inside (literally in Gutchel’s case) something is very wrong. The result is that the tension between poor-taste laughs, transgressive topics and characters in crisis is just about held: a difficult tightrope successfully walked despite cavernous pitfalls either side.

Based on reactions from Glasgow FrightFest (where the film had its European Premiere in March) audiences may respond with whooping glee or appalled disinterest, but the film invites a third way through: like Detective Fox, we may embark on this insane journey whilst staying connected to the humanity of the situation, and all the depravity that involves.

Tim Coleman

BUTT BOY is released on 4th May 2020 in the UK.

Published by Tim Coleman

Film critic. Screenwriter. Academic.

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