Movie Review: Urge (2016)
“Every high has its price.”
Director: Aaron Kaufman
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Justin Chatwin, Danny Masterson
Synopsis: A group of friends experiment with a drug that causes them to cast off their inhibitions and indulge in their wildest fantasies.
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You know from the outset that you’re not going to like any of the characters in Urge, the feature debut from Aaron Kaufman. They smile at one another’s good looks as they gather on the rooftop helipad of a high-rise office block, while below them, their host Neil (Danny Masterson), smugly humiliates a rival whose business he is about to take over on hugely unfair terms. After forcing his adversary into complying with his demands, Neil flies his friends to his modern mansion on an exclusive island for a weekend of partying. There are seven of them in total, including the uninhibited hedonist Jason, who greets them at Neil’s home, even though Neil promised Theresa (Ashley Greene – King of California), his secretary and lover, that he wouldn’t be coming. Theresa’s not too fond of Jason for some reason, but don’t worry about it, because that particular strand of the plot goes nowhere once she has voiced her displeasure at his presence. Urge has a running time of around 82 minutes (not including credits), which tells you all you need to know about how well we get to know all these people. Perhaps if screenwriter Jerry Stahl had bothered to give them some personality we might have cared more for their fates once they arrived upon the island, but instead we just grow impatient for them to receive their just desserts.
There’s an exclusive club on the island to which only a select few gain entry – which, of course, proves to be no problem for our crowd. It’s an Eyes Wide Shut kind of place, a debauched arena of bizarrely costumed exhibitionists that exists only in Hollywood movies trying to establish the decadence of its patrons. Once inside, Jason negotiates the purchase of a new designer drug called Urge from The Man (Pierce Brosnan), a character who radiates disconcerting vibes from the very first moment we see him. The Man smokes cigars and wears a cream suit; his hair is slicked back, and he laughs too heartily at his own weak jokes. Who can this man be, we wonder? Although, to be fair, the way in which the film exploits our preconceived ideas in order to misdirect us over his true identity is one of its few strong points. Either way, he’s hardly the type from whom one might buy new, untested, and possibly dangerous, drugs – especially when they come with the warning that each person must use Urge only once.
But, of course, Jason’s too hip to allow concerns for his life to prevent him from getting high, and his friends are too damn cool and wealthy to heed the warnings. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? The group’s first trip sees all but Jason cast off their inhibitions and indulge in their wildest fantasies – most of which are sexual. Strangely, though, Urge is pretty coy when it comes to sex and nudity, which proves to be something of a stumbling block, given the promiscuous behaviour promoted by the drug. While his friends get it on, Jason watches from the side-lines, his pre-existing lack of inhibitions apparently rendering him immune to the drug’s influence.
Urge proves to be such an amazing, hangover-free, high, that the chance of a game of tennis with Pete Sampras the following day seems even duller than it normally would. The friends can’t wait to once more sample its delights, but their second, forbidden, shot, has a kind of cumulative effect, delving deeper into each character’s true self and unleashing deeply hidden subconscious desires, none of which are particularly healthy. And Jason and his pals aren’t the only ones affected by this new drug – everyone on the island seems to be snorting the luminescent blue liquid, so it’s not long before chaos and anarchy reign as they all succumb to their basest urges.
Because it taps into the primal urge which occasionally flicks its tail within us all, Urge really should be a much better movie than it is. Part of the reason for its failure to engage is that, instead of placing likable characters with whom we can identify at the centre of its plot, Urge plays safe by featuring shallow people who already have a propensity for indulging their selfish desires. There’s a decent idea at the heart of Urge, but it’s not given enough time to develop beyond a superficial exploration of the consequences of unburdening ourselves of our inhibitions. One interpretation of a late conversation between Jason and The Man raises the possibility of a genuinely fascinating and unique confrontation between good and evil in which we would be expected to root for those deemed to be evil. Whether anyone involved in making the movie actually realises the potential in this strand is debatable – and probably a moot point, anyway: Urge fumbles its opportunity so badly that the chances of a sequel are unlikely.
(Reviewed 14th September 2016)