Rest assured that Nick Gatsby's Zapper! is not nearly as simple as the description that reads "In a surreal universe where bananas fire laser beams and soup cans are used as grenades, several wacky criminals put their lives on the line to score a mystical longboard." This description doesn't begin to tell you what to expect from Zapper!, though to attempt to do so here would likely fail miserably and also be a horrible use of space for a film where the filmmaking is intentionally adventurous, risk-taking, experimental, and incredibly surreal.
The first thing to note, I suppose, is also mentioned in the opening credits - Zapper! is psychedelic to the max and likely not a film for those easily triggered, physically or cognitively, by flashing lights, strobes, and overall high-sensory experiences. Reminding me somewhat of a more psychedelic cousin to Adam Wingard's Pop Skull, Zapper! has a loose narrative structure that does little more than provide the framework for everything else that unfolds. It's a crime caper of sorts, kinda sorta, with just shy of 90 minutes of visual pops, zaps, Warholesque psychedelia, and a cast makes me remember with a certain fondness my days of dropping LSD. The ensemble's performances are intentionally amplified, sound effects both overwhelm and immerse, and the film's soundtrack doesn't dare to try leading us down a path where any of this will ultimately end up making sense.
I picture Gatsby sitting around laughing at those who try to explore the meaning of the film, though I also picture Gatsby sitting around laughing at those who declare the film actually means nothing in particular.
But yeah, surrealism is like that.
Skye Armenta's lensing for the film is inventive and imaginative.
Have I mentioned surreal?
The score by Gatsby with Julie McCarthy embraces the film's surrealism and aims both futuristic and somewhat absurdist (more Ozon than Beckett). However, if you think the score is going to help you make sense of the film? Yeah, whatever.
While I dare not try to explain the film, a few performances are worth mentioning. Gatsby himself shines as Daffy, tasked with recovering the aforementioned longboard alongside Lucy (Skye Armenta). Armenta is in a dual role here and also impresses as Alice. Christopher James Taylor, as Owsley, is also rather a blast to watch and clearly understands the vibe Gatsby is going for here.
It's also worth noting that bananas really do serve as laser guns here. There's also a scene involving a soup can as a grenade. Gatsby makes some inventive choices in taking the film between a psychedelic color palette and a more washed out black-and-white tapestry. It's fun to watch and also helps the film's pacing as all but the sturdiest moviegoers may very well find the film a bit exhausting.
It's true that Zapper! isn't a film for everyone. Heck, it's likely not a film for most. However, if you're intrigued by the trailer then you likely know what you're headed for and should just accept that you're going to get it for 90 minutes. Zapper! is a film for the adventurous moviegoer who's more concerned about the experience of a film than the actual storytelling. If you're willing to immerse yourself in a surrealistic crime caper where the experience of the caper is more important than its narrative arc, then Zapper! likely offers enough cinematic rewards to make it worth your while.
Zapper! is available on Tubi and via other streaming platforms. Watch for it and enjoy the more experimental side of cinematic filmmaking.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic