Movie Review : Mules (2018)
I haven't seen Black Panther yet. It's been seen, explained and overexplained by more competent critics than me over the last six weeks. I'm not planning on seeing Avengers: Infinity War for similar reasons. Whenever the Disneyfication of movie theaters gives me the blues like it does now, I turn to short films for a dose of sock and awe. They are largely unbound by financial constraints and executives with shitty ideas, so they often brim with fierceness and originality that you just can't find in Disney blockbusters.
Paul von Stoetzel's gory and introspective new movie Mules is a good example of that.
Mules is an adaptation from a short story by Ed Kurtz. It features Mary Jo and Hank, two drug mules who party too much one night, while on the job. The following morning, Mary Jo wakes up next to a dead Hank who unceremoniously shat his pants on his way out. That's only the first shitty thing to happen to her and decidedly the least bizarre. Now that Hank is dead, it's on Mary Joe to make good on the transaction and that means she'll need to retrieve the dope stuck inside him. And it only starts to get weird and fucked up from there.
There's a lot to unpack about Mules. It definitely was my favorite Paul von Stoetzel movie, so far and I'm including his feature films in this. The first thing I've noticed about it is the influences. The iconic Guinea Pig series of gore movies first came to mind. Its unwavering, almost clinical treatment of its own horror and the attention to subtle, eerie details like the hotel room's AC unit were reminiscent of the Japanese master. It's become cliché to also quote David Lynch for inspiration, but there were moments in Mules that were clear callbacks to Lynch's debut movie Eraserhead, which we're going to get into.
What made Mules work so well was its powerful allegorical value. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you it's a story about rebirth and that even the vilest scenes in Mules (and they are pretty vile) make a cohesive point about this. First of all, the hotel room Mary Joe is trapped in is clearly a womb and Hank's death reflects her own upcoming demise if she can't 1) shit out the drug packs and 2) retrieve those in Hank's stomach. So, Mary Joe does what she seemingly has never done all her life: taking responsibility for herself. She metaphorically tears another womb open to find the drugs (which will give her a new lease on life) and she'll get rewarded in a way you have never fucking dreamed of.
To my knowledge, Mules is still doing the festivals run. It's been shown a couple times in March and if it's coming to your local festival, you should definitely take a detour to see it. It's vile and uncompromising, but also weird and surreal and has moment of fucked up beauty. It's not a movie for the faint of heart, but it'll reward you appropriately for every tough moment in puts you through. By far my favorite project from Paul von Stoetzel. I dare you to watch it if you have the opportunity and if you do, I dare you not to love it.
Mules is fierce as fuck.