Rob Lambert (director)
1h 55mins (length)
01 May 2020 (released)
04 May 2020
With such an uncomfortable title, Cuck was never going to be a typical Hollywood flick.
Marking Rob Lambert's directorial debut, the psychological thriller is really an investigation into the web-based ideologies associated with the "manosphere", and specifically, "involuntary celibates" or incels - which can be defined as members of an online subculture who are unable to find a sexual or romantic partner despite their desire for one.
Set largely in a shabby neighbourhood in Van Nuys, California, the plot follows Ronnie Palicki (Zachary Ray Sherman), a man in his late twenties who lives with his ill mother (Sally Kirkland) and serves as her primary caretaker.
While he idolises his late father, a U.S. Army veteran, the overweight young man is deemed unfit for military service due to a history of mental instability and has no other option but to take up a job cleaning a corner shop owned by an immigrant man named Abbas (David Diaan) to make some money.
Growing more and more isolated, Palicki starts to become obsessed with the idea of bringing back "real America" and throws himself into researching extremist alt-right websites.
With his confidence tumbling following a failed date with a local woman and his mother beginning to catch on to his petty thieving, Palicki soon receives a boost when his own basic vlogs start to garner an online following, with the clips revolving around guns, racist, xenophobic, and misogynist rants, as well as commentary about "cucks" - a derisive term for a man with moderate or progressive political views.
It is at this point that Lambert refers to the other meaning of the film's title, with the loner becoming entangled in his neighbours' amateur pornography scene.
Prompted by sexual frustration, Palicki unknowingly agrees to play the part of Bill (Timothy V. Murphy) and his wife Candy's (Monique Parent) cuckold in their niche "cam porn" business.
While delving into some important social and political themes, especially in relation to the idea of masculinity in modern America, Lambert's narrative peaks in the second act and unfortunately relies on viewers accepting the most predictable of conclusions.
Many will make parallels between films like Martin Scorsese's 1976 movie Taxi Driver or Todd Phillips' 2019 blockbuster Joker, yet the director, his cinematographer Nick Matthews and production designer Prerna Chawla also do a good job of using their resources to convey a truly grim atmosphere.
In addition, Sherman deserves praise for his convincing performance, having gained 45 pounds and using his acting skill to inject the right amount of vulnerability required for the role.
Cuck is certainly not everyone's cup of tea and much of the 115-minute runtime is rated 18 or NC-17. You've been warned!
However, that said, the film does offer up some intriguing commentary into the way in which young men around the world may grow to feel impotent in the face of their bleak circumstances.