[Review] Artik is Like a Hammer to the Head

It’s been my experience that when someone says to himself, “We’re doing a good thing...gotta keep our heads in the game” that they probably are, in fact, not doing a good thing. And when those words are said after we’ve already seen a garden, of sorts, with plastic bag-wrapped heads poking out of the ground, lips and eyes painted read, we kinda know for a fact that the man saying these things is not only not good. But he’s bad. A very bad dude.

But he sees himself as a hero in the way he draws his comics. His comic book representation is angular and strong; a chest that wouldn’t be out of place in the Batman Animated series. It’s classic and masculine. The man it belongs to is named Artik (Jerry G. Angelo) and his vocal delivery would give Bane a run for his money. It’s gruff and sounds like his mouth is full of marbles. He has a family...of sorts. His wife’s named Flin (Lauren Ashley Carter) and she’s introduced serving gruel of some sort to a group of kids (theirs?) kept locked up and dirty in a barn.

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Then there’s Boy Adam (Gavin White), another of Artik’s brood, for lack of a better word, who seems destined to become Artik. He’s Artik’s protege and spends his days wandering an industrial small town in the middle of nowhere, tagging fences and properties with a stylized logo representing Artik’s name. One day, Boy Adam runs into Holton (Chase Williamson), a mechanic who attends Al-Anon meetings and doesn’t eat meat, drink alcohol or have friends. As he starts to befriend Boy Adam, seeing a lost soul in need of rescuing, he finds himself on a collision path with Artik, a monster of a man who’s looking for his nemesis to rise beyond the ashes and take his rightful place as a hero.

Artik is like Mr. Glass...if Mr. Glass had no class and instead of being fragile was a hulking monster of a man with a penchant for slamming nails into people’s thighs. He’s on some cosmic quest to find a “true hero” and he will kill everyone until he finds him. Basically, Artik feels like a mix of an anti-super hero movie mixed with the family from like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes...just with less flesh eating. 

The majority of the film’s focus is on Artik’s nuclear family to the point that the film feels like it’s asking the question, “What if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...but from The Sawyers’ perspective?” The narrative is probably the weakest part of Artik. Written and directed by Tom Botchii Skowronski, the character’s dialogue moves in odd cadences and use words that I don’t think a normal person would use. Holton, for example, uses every word except family when talking to Boy Adam. “Your keepers,” “Your owners” and “whoever owns you” are said repeatedly. And maybe there’s some subtext to it, but the film doesn’t really care to explain it. 

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Ditto the odd family at the center of it. Are the kids locked in the barn theirs? Were they kidnapped? Why is Boy Adam different than the muck-covered children locked away? And what is this “harvest” Flin and Artik keep discussing that’s coming.  All of these are more are mentioned (sometimes repeatedly) but never examined. It sort of fits the rest of the movie, though, that lacks any sense of flow. 

Scenes don’t quite end but smash cut to another scene. It works, though, and kept me on edge the entire film. Helping matters is the pulsating, industrial score by Corey Wallace. It’s as unsubtle as a hammer to the head, but it thrums along like a madman for pretty much the entire 70 minute film. 

Speaking of hammers and heads, Artik is one violent and nasty piece of cinema. Heads will be smashed. Legs will be nailed. Faces will be...well, forked. And while it’s graphic, gory and painful to watch (kudos to the sfx team), it’s telling that the most intense scene involves a glass of whiskey. 

I didn’t really know what I thought of Artik as I was watching it. The first two acts felt so incredibly disjointed and meandering. At one point, I actually contemplated bailing on it because of how mishmash it felt and how poorly drawn the characters were. It’s alternately frustrating and fantastic. But once it hit the third act, I was all in. It turns into an intense game of bloody cat and mouse and felt like one long, protracted fight for survival in the best way. When the imagery, choreography and music coalesce, it becomes a monster of a horror film that I couldn’t look away from.