Written and directed by Don Thacker
This year’s Toronto After Dark film festival’s “Gross-Out Night” (Sunday, 10/20/13; a double-feature bill that also includes Septic Man [review here]) concludes with the absurdist horror-comedy Motivational Growth, and it definitely delivers on gag-worthy Troma-esque moments while shockingly also providing an insightful allegory on the risks of living a life without hope, direction and inspiration in a humorous manner.
Set in the early Nineties, the film introduces the audience to Ian (DiGiovanni), a severely depressed, repugnant agoraphobic who has not left his filthy apartment in over a year. The only joy in Ian’s sad existence is his best friend, Kent—an old-school television set that has managed to keep him in a dormant and emotionless state. However, Kent “dies” so Ian decides to kill himself; and like everything else in his life, he also fails at the suicide attempt and ends up hitting his head on the bathtub, only to wake up to a talking mold (voiced by Jeffrey Combs) that has accumulated on his bathroom wall.
The Mold (as he likes to be called) offers Ian life-affirming advice and helps give him the push he needs to clean up his physical appearance and apartment, while also helping him to grow in the process. This newfound change in Ian has also opened him up to the possibility of romance as his nauseatingly sweet neighbor Leah (Doetsch) shows interest in him. Unfortunately, The Mold has other plans for Ian. Through hidden messages in “Stay Tuned”-inspired abstract sequences involving Ian’s favorite TV programming channels, he starts to realize that The Mold’s intentions may not be as helpful as he once thought. Record-breaking projectile vomiting, nipple-shaped mold licking and perplexing incongruity ensue.
Motivational Growth is every Germaphobic’s nightmare while conversely being every nostalgic movie geek’s wet dream. For each gross-out moment involving pimple popping and mold eating, there is also a loving ode to the past—which include a Commodore 64 soundtrack, retro TV shows and of course an enjoyable voice role from the great horror cult actor Combs.
Motivational Growth is most likely going to divide critics and filmgoers alike at the Toronto After Dark film festival (where it’s having its Canadian Premiere) as its confusing nature and disjointedness are either going to be respected for writer/director Thacker’s underlying moral message or simply construed as being weird for weirdness’ sake. Thankfully, the acting from Adrian DiGiovanni and the supporting cast will keep the audience thoroughly inspired—even if they don’t quite understand what’s going on.
Like mold itself, Motivational Growth is bound to make you feel sick and will likely grow on you if you let it. Although it may take multiple viewings to fully appreciate the film’s intentions, there is no denying that this is a very inspired effort from the up-and-coming Thacker, and the ending will definitely leave viewers debating with one another long after the credits have rolled.
3 1/2 out of 5