Harmony Korine returns to the Venice Film Festival this week with his most experimental project in years, AGGRO DR1FT, an 80-minute screen experience that he doesn’t even really consider a movie. Taking the neon-bikini-and-guns aesthetic of his late career breakthrough Spring Breakers (2012) and elevating it into its own dimension entirely, AGGRO DR1FT was shot fully with thermal lens, giving it an explosively colorful and pulsating video game-like aesthetic. The story is set in the seedy domain of Miami’s criminal underbelly, where Spanish actor Jordi Mollà stars as a seasoned hitman in pursuit of his next target. Superstar rapper Travis Scott appears in the supporting part of Zion, a fellow traveler in this twisted, hallucinatory world of violence and sensuous madness. DJ and producer AraabMuzik, acclaimed for his work with ASAP Rocky, Cardi B and over a dozen other hip-hop stars, composed the film’s synth and beat-driven score.
AGGRO DR1FT is the first title from a new company Korine founded in Palm Beach, Florida called EDGLRD (pronounced “edge lord”). Part design collective, part digital factory, the outfit comprises video artists, animators, game and fashion designers, skateboarders and creatives of many other ilks. Korine says the group is committed to exploring the coming convergence of immersive art forms and will soon launch its own direct-to-consumer digital platform to release its multiform work (On Sept. 14, Korine will also unveil a new series of paintings inspired by AGGRO DR1FT at Los Angeles art gallery Hauser & Wirth in West Hollywood).
Shortly before AGGRO DR1FT‘s world premiere in Venice, The Hollywood Reporter connected with Korine to chat about the project’s creative origins and why “there’s never been a more interesting time to create than in this moment.”
What a wild film this is. Not much is known about AGGRO DR1FT publicly yet, so I wanted to start by asking you about its premise and inspiration.
Yeah, I worked on it clandestinely with this creative team that we set up here in Miami. A couple of years ago, I was starting to feel differently about movies and experiences — asking myself, what is a movie? — and I started to become less and less interested in standard films and entertainment. So, we kind of worked for a while to try to develop something that I had been chasing but wasn’t able to really articulate.
We’re trying to create something that has more like a kind of a singularity to it, at a time when different art forms are starting to feel like they’re starting to merge, you know? So, for like a year we just experimented with different tech — gaming engines, thermal cameras, 3D cameras and VFX. I wanted to see if there was a way to make something that was wholly immersive and closer to being inside of a game, but still narrative. So that’s kind of how it developed, and then the storyline and the characters developed with that.
What was involved in the creation of the finished look of the film? Everything was shot in thermal cam and then effects were laid on top in post?
Yeah, without getting too technical, it’s a multi-layered process. So, there’s live-action, VFX and animation — and then we incorporate AI into certain things by working within gaming engines. We even had some 3D imaging involved. There were three cameras running concurrently, and it’s almost like we created a technical snake that was hardwired to the computer. The computers and a dolly were just kind of like rigged to this machine. It was all kind of baked into this strange system we created. So, it was pretty cool. A very layered process — closer to creating a video art piece.
Yeah, it definitely feels like it’s more in the experimental filmmaking tradition, where the visual style and the storytelling approach are so different from a conventional film that it’s initially quite jarring — but then you end up experiencing and feeling things you never would from a typical movie.
Honestly, we never really discussed it as a film. It was more like an event or an experience — like we were trying to chase something that we didn’t feel existed yet. As it developed, there was really no script. There were designs and boards and visuals, and I was kind of freestyling as we went. Obviously, it’s heavily indebted to gaming aesthetics. More like in the way that song functions, it’s a much more liquid kind of narrative. It leans on this idea that vibe is almost everything.
The pace and flow of it does feel like the presence of being in a game, in the way that you’re just kind of there and things just happen and sometimes repeat. Are you a big gamer yourself?
Oh yeah, totally. Over the last couple of years, l went really headfirst into RPGs and first-person shooters. And it kind of started to take over in a lot of ways, spending a lot of time on Twitch and anything from mobile games to Elden Ring and GTA. You know, just the idea of world creation. It’s fun and can be transgressive — and for whatever reason it just started to take over more and more of my time.
When you were shooting with the thermal camera and the other aspects of the rig you created, what kind of things did you have to think about to capture the images in the way that you wanted to capture them? How was it different from shooting with a conventional camera?
The thermal just looks beautiful and I liked the idea of it reacting to heat, you know? It felt very close to almost capturing souls. At the same time, with the neon and the colors, it was almost like capturing a kind of energy. The action almost becomes like a rave.
I was also struck by the way the characters’ bodies sometimes move in the stilted and repetitive manner of video games — almost with a feeling of latency. But then other times they would move somewhat more naturalistically.
Yeah, that’s what I was going for with the whole thing — in the way that the bodies move, but also with the over-the-top dialog. Sometimes the dialog almost feels like it’s been filtered through something extra, you know? Like we tried to drain the emotion out of the dialog but at the same time give it this stilted effect, where they’re kind of shouting platitudes and curses. Some of it was by design and some of it just kind of happened.
In terms of scripting, it sounds like most of it was improvised, with you just feeding the actors lines on the fly?
There was no written dialog. I was trying to get to a point where I could freestyle a movie, basically. I had an idea for the characters, locations and a broad storyline, but we never actually wrote anything down.
So let’s talk about your co-stars. How did Jordi Mollà end up as your central assassin character?
He was living a couple doors down from me in Miami, so I ended up spending a lot of time with him. He used to send me video clips of lizards and shit floating in the water, because we lived right on the water (Laughs). It was cool; I always just liked him. And I loved him in Blow and Bad Boys. But just as a person — the way he moves and speaks, and his accent — there’s something strangely human about him. For his character, I liked the idea of the world’s greatest assassin who’s also filled with doubt and misery and going through what’s almost like an existential crisis. But at the same time, he still excels in that world of violence. I knew Jordi would play him in this kind of broken way. So, I called the film the aggressive drifter, which is really what the character is.
There’s also going to be a lot of excitement and curiosity about Travis Scott in this. How did he get involved and what was he like to work with as an actor?
Travis is someone I’ve worked with creatively for a while. You know, I shot the cover for his album JackBoys and I recently worked on his Circus Maximus film, which we shot in Italy. I just thought he would be perfect for that character of Zion. He really felt like a part of this world. He’s very much what you would think. He’s very enigmatic but he’s in the moment. He was always thinking about the character and the visuals. He was just totally in it.
What are your hopes and plans for how this film, or experience, will reach an audience?
I have ideas. You know, we created this company EDGLRD and the dream is that we’ll have our own platform. At some point, we’ll be able to circumvent the system. It’ll be a kind of creative direct-to-market situation. We’re trying to develop a way that we can create and put it out there as quickly as possible. I’m sure there’ll be a theatrical release in some capacity. Or the theatrical might be its own thing that’s maybe more immersive. Like there might be another way to present it.
You mean as a VR or gaming experience?
No, like presented as a rave.
Oh wow, real immersive. That’s a fun idea to contemplate. What would that be like?
It would definitely be fun. (Laughs) There’s also a world in which we put the film online and it will remix itself endlessly. You’ll have skins for the characters, and it can just kind of exist forever and be constantly changing and remixing. I think that’s possible.
Can you talk about other aspects of the platform you’re building?
We’ve already built it and we’ll launch it soon. It’ll be games, live-action, streaming and pranks. It’ll have objects and clothes. It’ll hopefully introduce its own world. This is the first film that will go on there. I’ve already finished the second one, which is totally different.
I grew up in the movies, so I always dreamed of doing things on the big screen, and I love watching things on the big screen because it’s so immersive. But I watch the way my kids view and interact with stuff now and I’m not so hung up on how things connect with and find their audience. I’m not even hung up on the idea that what I’m making is a movie. It’s more like, what comes after all this?
A lot of people in the movie business are lamenting the present moment because it feels like cinema might have lost its central place in the culture. But you seem totally happy to explore and embrace whatever might be coming next.
I just think there’s never been a more interesting time to create than in this moment. I think that tech finally is catching up to dreams and imagination in a way that has never happened. And I feel like it’s only going to get more interesting. You know, with AI and what’s happening in gaming, it really feels closer to a paintbrush. It’s just like another tool. I never really see them as one thing damaging another. It’s just its own mode of creation. I think there’s going to be an audience for normal films for a long time, but there’s also something else new and exciting developing. And there are so many ways to put things out now. The way a lot of people watch things isn’t even linear anymore. Viewing habits have been completely deconstructed, where some people watch and engage with multiple things at the same time. Even the meaning behind some work is questionable. Are we living in a time of post-meaning? I think all of these things are fun and there are new worlds to be built. It’s about creating stuff that is immersive and beyond dialog. There is a kind of emotional, physical component to this that’s beyond any kind of simple articulation. And it’s just fun.
So, what advice would you give the audience that will be stepping into the first AGGRO DR1FT screening in Venice?
Oh man, I haven’t even seen it on the big screen myself yet! I’m so excited to see it with a lot of people and to blast the music. I would just say, roll with it and experience it. Take a step inside. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.