Sometimes having low expectations is key to finding the biggest surprises. In a movie heavily inspired by Clockwork Orange, three promising young men spiral out of control, fueled by drugs and video game violence. Gully was a selection at 2019’s Tribeca Film Festival, and its delayed release undoubtedly has a lot to do with the pandemic rather than its striking quality. The debut feature of acclaimed music video director Nabil Elderkin immediately announces his arrival on the film scene with hypnotic visuals and surrealities.
Set in a dystopian version of Los Angeles (though I found this element to be barely noticeable), Gully’s three distinct lead characters are all troubled in different ways. Jesse (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is mute thanks to his trauma, and his abusive stepfather (John Corbett) is even more awful than he first appears. Nicky (Charlie Plummer) has a tendency to lash out at everyone around him and might become a new father even though one of his friends says to “tell the doctor to suck that shit outta” her. Calvin (Jacob Latimore) is possibly the wildest of them all; he is self-destructive in the most concerning ways. The neighbors care little for any of them, only concerned about their unhinged antics and the constant police presence “bringing down everybody’s property values.”
We follow these characters across their circumstances as they decide to take their violent video game avatars to the streets to engage in acts of very real brutality. Jesse’s narration is careful to point out that it was Calvin’s idea to “take the game outside.” They trash a video store and shake all the movies loose from the shelves. They randomly attack people and beat them up for pills; they steal cars. They pick up randoms with the clear intention to toy with them, with Jesse pretending to be a famous artist fresh out of the recording studio.
Gully attempts to explain away each of their wild behaviors through the use of flashbacks and Jesse’s narration—an interesting script decision, considering that Jesse isn’t always present for the action, nor does he actually speak throughout the duration. It also spouts philosophical dialogue like “sorrow is like treasure: you only show it to your friends,” especially in the case of Terrence Howard’s homeless guru. However, I found myself falling in love with these flawed and outrageous youths acting out in rage at their circumstances.
The power not only comes from the script, but also in the raw performances of three extremely talented actors. It is ironic that their stars have risen even further since Gully debuted at Tribeca, and Kelvin Harrison Jr in particular is truly magnificent in this movie. Though he barely speaks, his soothing voice over the narrative gives his character innocence, vulnerability, and omniscience. The others are excellent too, and even smaller roles and cameos help to fill this alternate Los Angeles with people from all walks of life.
The final act turns violent and tragic, when the time comes to pay the piper. You can only act outrageously for so long until finally it catches up to you. I don’t think Gully ever tries to idealize or glorify the violence and antics of its leads, opting for thorough examination of their backgrounds and livelihoods instead. Even if you end up hating the characters, you can still relate to them and become knowledgable about why they do what they do. The artwork in the end credits is equally as stunning and surreal as everything that came before. It is worthy of sticking through the full credits just to see this beautiful piece of art as it zooms out to reveal the true scope of its patchwork beauty.
Gully is now playing in select theaters, and is available on both digital and on demand.