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FEATURING: Kimball Farley, Lilla Kizlinger, Eliza Roberts, voice of
PLOT: A nineteen-year-old boy lives a sheltered life of sugar and videogames under the guardianship of his conspiracy-obsessed mother and in the company of his adopted seventeen-year-old Hungarian sister who is obsessed with conceiving a child.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: This is a very dark, but laugh-out-loud comedy centered on a family whose dysfunction makes the viewer sympathize with a visiting sex offender. Outrageous, unsettling, and hilarious.
COMMENTS: On those rare occasions when one is smacked upside the head with such beautiful domestic horror, it pays to linger on the experience: savoring the deadpan unpleasantness that oozes a quirky charm reminiscent of Eraserhead as directed by ; contemplating the beauty of life as it emerges from horrid, gooey ingredients; and laughing your ass off at the mad, matter-of-fact insanity of a calmly self-assured beta-male psycho. Hippo feels tailor made for those happy few who can overlook sacrilege, sexual mores, and can find it in their heart to embrace a nightmare version of Thomas Kinkade.
Like his adopted Hungarian sister, Buttercup, Adam is schooled at home by a mother who has witnessed UFOs. The lad, recently turned nineteen, is called “Hippo” by his sister and mother, a pet name derived from a stuffed animal in his possession for years, and which he recently has begun humping nightly before sleep. (He does not know about “masturbation”, per se, and similarly his stepsister is wholly unaware of the facts about sex and sexuality.) As the trio go about their routines, dynamics shift as Hippo becomes more paranoid about the dangers outside the home—alien invasion and World War III among them—and Buttercup, in her own semi-detached view of this insular world, desires more and more to bear a child, preferably her stepbrother’s. A visitation by an out-of-town pervert (for a “play-date”, the drunken mother assures the group at an awkward dinner) catalyses the collapse of the old family unit, bringing Hippo and Buttercup into a strange new world.
Hippo is horror, in its way. Its depiction of a ’90s-era man-child, obsessed as much with violence as his own merits as an individual, induces both dismay and guffaws. Kimball Farley is nothing short of frightening in his depiction of Hippo, challenging viewers with his impressively crummy portrayals of masculinity through remarks like, “Quiet. You are about to witness man made horrors beyond your comprehension”, and meaning every word. I could also write that as, Kimball Farley is nothing short of hilarious in his depiction of Hippo. Such is the line being tread here, with Hippo’s aspiring-alpha-male deadpan complemented perfectly by his stepsister’s resigned deadpan (and each side glued by the unflappability of Eliza Roberts’ mother hen).
The black and white cinematography is artistic and ridiculous, in keeping with the thematic and stylistic dualities found throughout. As an exploration of extreme religion clashing with extreme modernity (vintage, in this case, as Hippo relishes a particular—and violent—new game on his N64), Rapaport shows a societal decay through a mercifully semi-detached lens. I laughed heartily, particularly at the finale’s Genesis punchline, and only felt comfortable so doing because I knew the crowd I was watching alongside. Hippo is not for the easily offended: a bouncy-dark vision with the kind of happy ending that only a Henry Spencer could relish.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…an exceedingly strange, quirky film meant to provoke, like the incestuous subtext of The Royal Tenenbaums restaged by way of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth… a fantastically weird investigation into young manhood, one that feels like it comments on the modern ‘incel’ as much as it does on sheltered 90s kids.”–Eric Langberg, “Everything’s Interesting”