‘Vulcanizadora’ Tribeca 2024 Review: Joel Potrykus’ Explosive Coming-Of-Age Story

Joel Potrykus is a punk, DIY filmmaker whose films, such as Buzzard, The Alchemist’s Cookbook, and Ape, are known for their offbeat but distinct tone that takes loner cinema to a new hilariously terrifying level. His latest, Vulcanizadora, just had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival and while it’s more subdued in its tone, it is perhaps his bleakest and most heart-breaking.

Derek (Potrykus) and Marty (Joshua Burge) are two friends with a plan. That plan involves hiking far into the woods. Why, we aren’t quite sure, at least not yet. All we know is that there’s a strange air around the duo. While Derek chatters non-stop, taking them on detours to find hidden porno mags, and having Marty fire bottle rockets at him on camera, Marty stands around stoically, saying nothing but looking at Marty with a mix of sadness and pity. This would be expected behavior for teenagers. Who hasn’t looked for porn in the woods as a kid? But here, Derek and Marty are middle-aged men. Derek’s balding head and Marty’s neck tattoo make Vulcanizadora feel like a weird version of Stand By Me, where the kids are grown-ups who never really grew up.

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Then, after an explosive set piece, the tone shifts from the world’s most awkward coming-of-age story to a heart-breaking voyage about forgiveness and voyeurism. It’s shocking but appropriate, as if a story like Vulcanizadora couldn’t possibly go any other way. This is another case of a recent pitch-black comedy that makes you laugh even when it feels wrong; in other words, it would pair well with The Coffee Table.

Cinematographer Adam J. Minnick shoots the entirety of Vulcanizadora in 16mm, giving the film a distinct Faces of Death vibe (along with a killer poster paying homage to that very experience). While not found footage, that grainy aesthetic makes the existing tension between the friends feel more real and uncomfortable. Minnick also deftly maneuvers through close-ups and wide shots to create a visual tension that accompanies the world’s worst hike. Through Potrykus’ editing (yes, he also edited the film), the camera suddenly moves from sitting with the characters so we can really experience their feelings to wide shots of nature that make these men look as small as they appear to feel. 

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Burge’s performance is a masterclass in showing not telling as he uses his expressive face to convey years of trauma and hurt in quiet moments like when he simply sits in a bathtub, contemplating a strange leather device. Describing it like that without context sounds silly. But within the world of Vulcanizadora, it’s tragic as well as silly. That’s what’s so interesting about this film and about Potrykus as a filmmaker. Tragedy as comedy isn’t new, but Potrykus’ specific brand of melding those ideas is specifically off-kilter and refreshing—it’s both relatable and unreal. A specific kind of liminality is crafted in this film that captures the shattering male ego in the darkest yet funniest way possible.

Vulcanizadora is a film where talking around most of the plot is necessary for the best impact. But suffice to say, Potrykus has delivered another banger (pun intended) that’s the perfect coming-of-age story they’d show in hell, or at least purgatory. With few words, Potrykus weaves a story about the power of male friendships, for better or worse, that moves slowly but rewards those willing to go at its speed. It’s worth the ride. I guarantee it.

4.0

Summary

Potrykus has delivered another banger (pun intended) that’s the perfect coming-of-age story they’d show in hell, or at least purgatory.

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