Cuck doesn’t mince words and doesn’t attempt to camouflage its social and political message – angry white men are dangerous time bombs, ticking quietly until they go off. Zachary Ray Sherman plays Ronnie, an angry, unemployable, racist, misogynistic, homophobic loser who lives at home with his widowed mother (an unrecognizable Sally Kirkland), where he spends most of his free time masturbating with increasing ferocity to online porn. His father was a Gulf War veteran, and Ronnie dreams of joining the Army but they won’t have anything to do with him because he has a criminal record and flunked the psych eval.
Not surprisingly, he becomes a popular alt-right wing vlogger, sitting shirtless in front of his computer, spewing vitriol about immigrants taking all the jobs – as if that’s why no one will hire him. He calls himself “True Patriot” and ends his cyber-rants with a salute to the camera. Fair warning – his language is vulgar and he has no compunctions about using racist slurs (neither do real world crypto-facists, neo-Nazis and assorted white supremacists). At one point Ronnie denies to his web cam that he’s a racist, adding: “I just know the difference between a black and a n*****.” Anyone who disagrees is labelled as a left wing “cuck” or “libtard.”
Ronnie is desperate to find a woman, though on the rare occasion he actually gets to talk to one, he unfailingly finds a way to offend her. Things take an unexpected turn when he meets Candy (Monique Parent), an older blond who seems to show interest in him. The movie veers unexpectedly into Boogie Nights territory when Candy recruits him to literally play the cuckold, masturbating on-camera while she has sex first with her far more macho husband Bill (Timothy V. Murphy), and then with a string of, ironically, ethnic partners, in their homemade porn videos.
That plot development, which initially seems to come out thin air, turns out to be dripping with dramatic irony. That’s as far as the surprise element is going to go. Only viewers who have never seen a movie before won’t suspect that Ronnie is going to get a gun and that this development won’t go well, and they’d be right.
There’s a disquietingly Freudian aspect to the movie, and Ronnie’s relationship to his pawn shop .38 is unapologetically phallic. His relationship with his mother is nearly as healthy as Norman Bates and his mother, and hasn’t helped with his anger issues or general maladjustment. Kirkland finds some depth and nuance in a character that could have been a two-dimensional caricature, and doesn’t shy away from some creepy Oedipus-and-Jocasta overtones.
Sherman, who has been paying his dues in TV, indies and shorts for years, vanishes completely into the role of Ronnie, the most uncuddly movie protagonist since Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, a movie Cuck seems determined to evoke, particularly in its open disdain for the less intellectual corners of conservatism. He doesn’t try to make Ronnie sympathetic, although he’s enormously convincing in showing the roots of his rage. The thing about the character isn’t that we’re going to empathize with him – we’re going to worry that we’re passing him on every street corner.
It’s Monique Parent, however, who ultimately hijacks the movie. She walks a fine tightrope between sex kitten and cynical manipulator with Wallenda-like balance, and her character’s shadow hangs over the second half of the movie like an oversized shroud. In a paradoxical dramatic grand jêté, she both validates Ronnie’s skewed assumptions about women while simultaneously smashing them to smithereens.
Although Cuck’s genetics clearly lie in the DNA of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets progeny, particularly Taxi Driver, it is far less flashy. Helmer Rob Lambert, who co-wrote the screenplay, makes his feature directorial debut here, and admittedly does not have Scorsese’s visual flair. (For budgetary limitations if nothing else, the movie is far less graphically violent than many Scorsese films as well.) He adheres instead to a gritty cinema verité sensibility, resulting in a disquieting, documentary look. What results is not only a startlingly stark and believable depiction of a deteriorating middle America, but a stone cold indictment.
Cuck is distributed by Gravitas Ventures, and opens in theaters and on Video On Demand October 4th, 2019.