The Movie Waffler First Look Review - CACTUS JACK | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - CACTUS JACK

cactus jack review
A documentarian is kidnapped by his latest subject, a basement dwelling Nazi.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Chris Thornton, Jay Thornton

Starring: R. Michael Gull, Sam Koze, Chris Thornton

cactus jack poster

From what I can gather, the main attraction in becoming a racist, homophobic, misogynist misanthrope is the absolution from personal responsibility such a mindset promises. Can you imagine! You are the beneficiary of an entrenched patriarchy, with a racial hegemony which favours your skin colour, but yet you are still a little piece of shit loser because your sense of entitlement far exceeds your application towards achieving it. This wasn’t meant to happen! Be nice to blame somebody else for your misfortune, wouldn’t it? Someone different. Not the loaded political system which has seen the "gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades" in advanced economies (according to a report by the International Monetary Fund). Nah, it’s the fault of people with different eumelanin levels. Women, they’re to blame too. And The Gays, somehow.

You can see the appeal, and countless underground/overground impotents seem to have grasped it with both mucky hands. However cartoonish the representation of Cactus Jack’s basement dwelling, alt-right inadequate becomes during the course of this film’s intense 88 minutes, you could never accuse writer/director team Chris and Jay Thornton of being over the top. Fact is, the occasional unwelcome dip into certain twitter timelines, the Capitol riots, the emetic Breitbart (still going!), all serve to show that this sort of archetype is all too present, and seemingly beyond parody.

cactus jack review

With his Charles Manson (an early adopter of this type of dummy-spitting) beard and pate, R. Michael Gull as the titular character is deeply unpleasant and utterly convincing as reiterates his tired, second-hand doctrine and mugs for the camera of Chris (Sam Koze), a documentarian who has (unwisely) chosen this dangerous div as a subject.

For the film’s first half, the Thorntons present Ronald aka Cactus Jack’s screed as is. It is like watching a scarier Paul Joseph Watson, and this snowflake reviewer did wonder if this sort of approach inadvertently indulges the sort of hatred Ronald epitomises (at one point he, inevitably, has a go at ‘libtard f****t P.OS.s’ - I’m like, no need to get personal, yeah?), and is the probable reason for the eager disclaimer which the film presents at the start. But then again, how else would a filmmaker honestly portray this sort of twerp? Eventually, cinema distances and the camera objectifies, with the deep Eraserhead monochromes and industrial score of Cactus Jack providing grim aesthetic remove from the bogus ideologies of its central character.

cactus jack review

What is also incredibly striking is the duo’s documentary-style use of archived footage. Scenes from American Sit-Coms, cartoons and news footage all are spliced together with Ronald’s nonsense, providing a visual mixtape which offers a potted history of the pop-culture standards which may well have given rise to Ronald’s innate superiority and hysterical fear of the other. These bravura editing skills are important to the palatability of Cactus Jack’s storytelling, too, as, in honesty, just like the bloke in the pub who is ‘just saying’, Ronald’s nonsense soon gets predictable and tiresome. Duly, just as a true fascist cannot run on baseless hatred alone and either fizzles out or steps up a level, Cactus Jack’s last act takes a turn for the slightly absurd.

In a fit of pique, Ronald only goes and kidnaps his documentarian, subjecting him to weird sexual abuse (as ever, what is apparently homophobia almost always turns out to be bitter jealousy), and then sets himself up on the dark web as one of those vloggers you hear about. It is as if a radicalised Rupert Pupkin had access to a YouTube account (fascinating how The King of Comedy has been such a recurrent touchstone over the last few years)!

cactus jack review

The film, inevitably, runs out of steam towards the end (there is only so much you can take of this one note arsehole), and switches in possible explorations of why Ronald is the way he is (Mummy issues, Daddy issues, latent homosexuality - at one point Ronald’s mum can be heard screaming ‘I wish you had been stillborn!’, like some John Waters heroine).

It’s fair enough that the Thorntons attempt to add dimension to their character, but I am not sure how far this approach convinces. After all, there would have to be a lot of abusive mothers and reluctant gays out there to explain the massive rise in the alt-right. Perhaps a more persuasive explanation for this sort of extremism is the alienation which our inter-connected, ultimately estranging media landscape engenders - a deeply human need to be a part of something bigger. This is an inconvenient truth consolidated by Cactus Jack’s eventual rise to social media dominance, with the film sardonically suggesting that even relative fame and acceptance isn’t enough to sate Ronald’s dissatisfaction with the world at large and with himself.

Cactus Jack is on US VOD now (watch it here). A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews