Written and directed by Jay Buim, co-written by Susan Juvet and Rachel Gayle Webster, a sex-cult settles in the Catskills to build community and spread knowledge, led by their mystical female founder. Their mission is to prioritize pleasure through a ritual called Jilling Off, which they believe will heal Mother Earth. Starring: Khan Baykal, Asia Lee Boostani, Drew Freed, Alec Jones-Trujillo, Lexie Mountain, Yaz Perea, Robby Rackleff, Nell Sherman, Mo Stark and Nina Tarr.
If you’re a film fan and you hear the words sex, cult and woods, obviously your mind is going to immediately jump to horror but you’d be very mistaken in this case. While it does initially give off a 1970s erotic thriller atmosphere, it’s sadly short lived. There genuinely was great potential for this to throwback to trashy, exploitation style cinema and while aesthetically it does slightly hold onto that, its story chooses an air that’s more akin to Girls mixed with a touch of parody. It takes a meandering route, not committing to any particular genre or theme, it trots along at its own pace. It’s clearly intended as humour, its style is very nonchalant, but there’s no strong vein of humour, mostly because in this day and age, it’s not actually that ridiculous of a concept, you can quite easily see the creation of this cult happening.
You can feel that it’s trying to be silly and over the top but we live in such a world where people consistently have new health fads and self-care mantras, that it’s simply not that farfetched. Unfortunately, that leaves the film with little else to offer in terms of story and comedy. There’s some classic awkwardness and lingering shots in dealing with sex but that tone gradually just fades away. It doesn’t have a key focus or goal to put its energy toward, so it tends to be stuck going in circles. Visually, it does keep that 70s feel going, especially interlacing it with old home video style footage, it’s colourful and carefree. It’s sadly just not as weird, awkward or sexually liberated as it wants to be.
The characters all hit fairly stereotypical notes because there’s little detail to them, it doesn’t take the time to explore their backstories. It would have been a nice touch to give some information on how they ended up in the cult and why, but it never appears. They do still however build a decent community feel, which is one of the only consistent themes in the film, and the group have a decent chemistry at work. Some of them get a little more attention than others, particularly Mo Stark’s Bobby who gradually starts to feel like a centre to the group. They all work well together and get across the feel that they’re having a good time, but they needed to flesh out these characters to give you something to grab onto.
Adventures in Success feels like it was made with the filmmakers in mind and not a larger audience, it seems unlikely any viewer’s going to have as much fun watching it as they did making it. It puts itself into a very specific box and doesn’t dip more than a toe into any particular genre. There were a few avenues with potential but all of them get minimal exploration, leaving you with a story that goes almost nowhere. There’s no tangible focus or drive, it’s an aloof style that makes it difficult to invest in. It wants to be eccentric and unusual but it seems unaware of the fact that it’s actually not that far removed from the reality that we live in.