From haunted sound studios to inscrutable BDSM relationships and killer dresses sewn by the dead, Peter Strickland’s films have always delighted in being stuffed to bursting with the odd and offputting, but Flux Gourmet pushes his more unpleasant sensibilities to whole new levels. Here is a film built out of poo, farts, soggy food, terrapin butchery, and sexual hypnosis, everything contributing to a patina of grotesque filth through which very little enjoyment can be seen. Though there are a few impressive ideas on display here, Flux Gourmet’s complete commitment to repulsion eventually just exhausts and irritates.
To set the stage for the mess to come, Strickland builds a world in which ‘sonic catering’ is the premiere artform of the day, attracting ‘culinary collectives’ from all over the world to compete for a month-long residence in an old English country house that specialises in showcasing this work. It’s a form that marries cooking and music, the sounds of meal prep (chopping, frying, boiling, splatting etc) remixed live on stage, sometimes accompanied by an interpretive dance routine. The newest collective is led by the autocratic Elle (Fatma Mohamed), whose growing conflict with her bandmates and residency chief Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie) forms the backbone of Flux Gourmet’s story.
It’s a plot that’s not in a hurry to go anywhere in particular, often getting sidetracked by any number of strange subplots, be that the attempted revenges of a spurned collective, Jan Stevens’s budding romance with young sonic caterer Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield), or the worsening flatulence of the in-house journalist. Though Strickland’s world-building is impressively convincing, managing to believably create this new genre and some mini-movements within it, the stories he puts inside this universe are mostly uninvolving, rarely hitting home either dramatically or comedically.
Where The Duke of Burgundy had a meaningful relationship at its heart and In Fabric turned its wackadoo premise into something genuinely unnerving, there’s nothing to latch on to emotionally in Flux Gourmet, which leaves a lot of the weirdness feeling self-conscious and performative, its provocations hollow and empty. Some of the performances are fun, especially Richard Bremmer as the Classics-quoting in-house doctor and an admirably weird turn from Butterfield that is a long way from his current Sex Education comfort zone, but the characters are generally so unlikeable that it’s impossible to ever really care what happens to them.
For all its faults, Flux Gourmet is a true original, which can, in its best moments, make for inherently exciting viewing. It’s just so caught up on throwing its bad-taste uniquenesses at you that you become numb to it, watching all these bizarre moments just go through the motions until the deliberately frustrating ending. For any hardcore fans of Strickland’s particular brand of surreal Euro-sploitation, this is probably another integral piece of the puzzle in the filmography of one of our most idiosyncratic auteurs but, for everyone else, it’s a mostly unappetising dish.