Forget ‘Joker.’ The Most Terrifying Incel Horror Film Is ‘Cuck.’
The new film “Cuck,” in theaters Oct. 4, dramatizes an internet-radicalized, sexually frustrated white nationalist’s descent into violence.
Joker is on its way to educate moviegoers about how disaffected young men are driven to lives of violent crime, but for a less comic book-y depiction of incel derangement, look no further than Cuck, Rob Lambert’s drama (in theaters Oct. 4) about a preternatural loser primed to explode in conservative-terrorist fashion. It’s a character study determined to provide insight into the types of racist, sexist lunatics who spread fear and hatred via the barrel of a gun and, at least as a portrait of what makes these individuals tick, it’s as timely as it is depressing—and horrifying.
Before it heads down more contrived avenues that exacerbate its dearth of surprises, Cuck crafts an authentic vision of sexually aggrieved white nationalist psychosis. The crazy person in question is Ronnie (Zachary Ray Sherman), a California twentysomething who lives at home caring for his mom (Sally Kirkland, crowing like a prejudiced, pious loon) and, more frequently still, sitting in his dark bedroom, decorated with American flags and pamphlets for the military that won’t let him in because he failed his psych test. Habitually situated shirtless in front of his laptop, pizza and soda always within reach, Ronnie watches online video after online video of right-wing commentators—including his favorite star, Chance Dalmain (Travis Hammer)—ranting about the dangers of liberalism, immigration and diversity.
“Are you ready to take the red pill? Or are you just another cuck?” asks Chance at the end of one such screed. For viewers not familiar with this sort of language, he’s using the terminology of the incel (“involuntary celibate”) community, comprised of men who blame their lack of sex (and generally bad romantic fortunes) on women. The allusion to The Matrix’s “red pill” speech refers to incels’ belief that only they can see the truth: namely, that society is unfairly rigged against men like them, thanks to “Chads” (i.e. handsome, wealthy studs) getting all the “Stacys” (i.e. super-hot materialistic women), and all the “Beckys” (i.e. average women) coveting the “Chads” rather than settling for them. It’s an unhinged view of the world designed to put the onus for their failures on everyone and anyone but themselves.
And as illustrated by Alek Minassian, a self-described “Incel Rebellion” member who in April 2018 ran a truck through a Toronto crowd, killing 10, it leads to the sort of domestic terrorism that’s become all-too-common these days.
Ronnie is cut from this exact cloth, and when he’s not endlessly indoctrinating himself with extremist videos or clips of naked women shooting firearms—because part of this equation is the dream of joining the military to defend the country against brown-skinned “cavemen”—he’s pleasuring himself to free porn. Proving to be the very thing he claims “libtards” and “feminazis” are, he’s a hyper-sensitive “snowflake” or, per the film’s title, a “cuck”—a term that, to a woman who unwisely responds to his online-dating-site invitation, he misogynistically defines as “a pussy.” It’s thus no surprise that his get-together with this stranger quickly falls apart. Or that the best he can do for employment is getting a job mopping floors for the Arab convenience store owners he resents. Or that he loses said gig almost as soon as he lands it, because he can’t stop himself from spewing hate speech at, and getting into fights he can’t win against, African-American customers.
In this regard, Cuck is incisive, affording a convincing peek into the life of the sort of friendless, sexless, still-living-in-his-mom’s-house catastrophe that eventually takes his self-loathing and resentment out on the public at large. With every fit of pent-up fist-shaking fury, Sherman captures the volatility of such men. And in the online videos Ronnie begins uploading to the web—regurgitating the agitprop he’s consumed but doesn’t really comprehend past its superficial intolerance and persecution-complex nonsense—he conveys both the ugly anger that fuels him, and the underlying little-kid-lost loneliness and sorrow at the root of his emotional issues. The latter is only reinforced by Ronnie’s memories of his late military-vet dad, here presented through impressionistic interludes of the man standing in the center of a spotlight in a dark space.
The problem with Lambert’s film (co-written by Joe Varkle) is that after establishing its accurate snapshot of incel Ronnie, its only destination is a massacre. That alone renders Cuck’s second half an exercise in waiting for the inevitable. Worse, however, is the means by which it brings that calamity about—specifically, Ronnie’s unlikely relationship with Candy (Monique Parent), a neighborhood cougar who turns out to be an internet porn star. Taking the bold step of offering to help with her yard work, Ronnie is quickly brought into her business, which she runs with intimidating heroin-addict spouse Bill (Timothy V. Murphy). Before long, he’s making X-rated clips with Candy (supposedly to be accessible only behind a VIP subscriber paywall) in which he plays her cuckolded husband, forced to watch her have sex with black and Latino hunks while being berated as unmanly.
This narrative twist certainly provides Cuck with an opportunity to sexually humiliate Ronnie in the very way that will most wound his sense of self, but it does so at the expense of believability. It’s simply too convenient for the unstable Ronnie to fall into this disaster-ready situation, which is compounded by his delusional fantasy that Candy really loves him (a notion she naturally exploits in order to keep him around). By the time he’s being debased by Candy in the most emasculating manner imaginable, the film has lost any desire to play with expectations, to its own detriment.
Through a series of improbable third-act developments, Cuck orchestrates the tragedy it’s been telegraphing from the start. Director Lambert stages it with a matter-of-factness that shrewdly undercuts any sense of excitement; like his camera’s early serpentine trip through a laundromat ringing with foreign voices that drive Ronnie insane, his handling of the finale is restrained, and assured. By that point in the proceedings, though, his film has indulged in one too many expedient twists to feel like more than a two-dimensional big-screen version of a well-researched op-ed piece.