VULCANIZADORA (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Marty (Joshua Burge) and Derek (Joel Potrykus) are on a mission. Wandering through the woods somewhere in Michigan, Marty finds only the briefest of moments to interrupt incessant chatterbox Derek, the latter of whom seems almost manically intent on narrating himself into a state of accepting their circumstances. Arriving at their destination, the purpose of their journey is brought into sudden, shocking focus. But here – like so many things in their lives – things again do not go exactly according to plan. Forced to address the fallout, Marty must face up to the very things that saw him run to the woods to escape in the first place.

With its recent world premiere at Tribeca, is a supple little indie beast shot on 16mm that clocks in at just under 90 minutes, but packs an enormous punch within that runtime. Following on from past collaborations Ape (2012) and Buzzard (2014), in Vulcanizadora the connection between Burge and Potrykus is electric, the latter here again taking on writing, directing and editing duties as well as appearing on screen in one of the two main roles.

In a director’s statement accompanying the film, Potrykus explains the origins of the film’s signature, confessional aspect. “One of my biggest concerns about fatherhood is that I’d soften up and start telling stories of hope and inspiration”, he writes. “Five years after the birth of my one and only son, and I’m mostly consumed with fears of inadequacy, abandonment, and mortality; going to prison by accident, falling off a cliff by accident, jumping off a cliff by accident.” For Potrykus, this frames the film as “my most heartfelt and personal, but not in a good way. It’s my most sincere and emotional, but also my bleakest and most haunting”.

But even without knowing this background – in fact, even if not recognising the actor who plays Derek as the mastermind behind the project as a whole – it is still surely impossible to not acutely feel while watching the movie that we are witnessing something profoundly personal and almost searingly sincere.

For all the conversational sturm und drang that marks the onslaught of Derek’s intense, verbalized stream of consciousness in the film’s opening act, buried beneath all that noise is the desperate tragedy of two men unable to find an authentic way of being in the world. They talk and talk and talk, but still struggle to find an authentic, honest voice. Derek and Marty in their own ways attempt to ineffectively fight against the pressures of living up to idealized visions of masculinity which – as toxic as they are – have ultimately failed them.

Vulcanizadora is a dark, sombre film, and yet it speaks of something so genuine in such an urgent way that the courage driving it brings with it an implicit kind of hope. This is, ultimately, a hope for the future, where we have learned the lessons of lost men like Marty and Derek.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).