Review: #ShakespearesSh*tstorm (2020)

Founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz co-founded Troma Entertainment, an independent production studio in New York City specializing in B-movie horrors, sex comedies, and all-around satire. Troma has spent the past 46 years “disrupting media” just as its slogan would suggest, and in a day and age where media has more power than ever before, a little disruption is exactly what we need. Troma’s latest offering “#ShakespearesShitstorm” continues the Troma tradition of using fun-filled, socially-driven, genre-bending madness to navigate the pressing issues of today’s culture. The multi-layered satirical approach which has become more or less Troma trademarked (consisting of dick jokes followed by introspective character monologues and then, likely, somebody having their entire arm ripped off) is not something that sits well with mass audiences; but that’s exactly what disrupting media ia all about. While “#ShakespeareShitstorm” may not be the movie that the people of 2020 desire, it is the exact movie that the people of 2020 deserve. 

#ShakespeareShitstorm held its world premiere this past Saturday as a part of the online Fantasia Film Festival. In a week that had both X-Men New Mutants and Tenet playing exclusively in movie theaters, as well as Mulan being made available later this week as Disney+ offering Mulan as a streaming option to premiere subscribers, #ShakespeareShitstorm may have been more than a little overshadowed, but that’s exactly what Troma is used to. As the major studios struggle to milk every last cent out of consumers, there’s Troma metronomically chugging along, continuing to innovate, stay current with the times, and pull absolutely zero punches while doing so. Coincidentally (or prophetically), consumerism, capitalism, and creative innovation are heavy themes throughout the film. #ShakespearesShitstorm is a Tromatized retelling of “The Tempest” and, as such, serves as a spiritual successor to 1997’s Tromeo & Juliet written by James Gunn. (Yes, that James Gunn.) The film follows the story of a group of big pharma execs who’ve washed ashore Tromaville, New Jersey courtesy of a swirling vortex of whale feces which wrecked their luxury cruise to Korea. The film quickly examines the impact of pharmaceutical companies on modern culture, the opioid crisis, influencer culture, cancel culture, and, well, just about everything else. 

Now, anybody who’s seen Troma movies know that they are truly in a class of their own, and for that reason, it can be difficult to punch out a proper review, but there are a number of elements that need highlighting. First of all, I was astounded by the overall sense of cohesion throughout the entirety of the movie. Beginning to end, this is a fully realized story and Lloyd Kaufman has a very clear vision for what he wants out of every scene. Kaufman is a brilliant director and his talents are on full display here. Beyond that, the music and overall sound design of the film is palpable and helps keep a delicate balance of realism, hyper-realism, and pure absurdity. Troma movies are famous for cutting from dramatic character moments to borderline cataclysmic activity, and the sound design helps keep these moments both grounded and elevated when the story calls for such, and works hand-in-hand with Kaufman’s auteur-esque direction to craft a very clear, albeit purely absurd, Shakespearian adaptation. 

I was also quite impressed by the writing of the film. I think this is a story that has something to offer to everybody, and it will challenge your beliefs on a personal level just the way any good story should. The acting is refreshingly over-the-top, the locations are varied and interesting, and, dammit, the movie is laugh-out-loud funny. But, there’s one thing that deserves special notice – the art direction. Troma has an affinity for grotesque practical special effects and hyper-detailed set design, and #ShakespeareShitstorm would not be the film that it is without the high level of execution put in on these fronts. Even by Troma’s own standards, there is a ton of body horror in this movie. If you compiled all of the practical effects from Stuart Gordon’s filmography, you’d probably still have to throw in a Rob Zombie movie or two in order to draw a parallel. At one point, Prospero, played (of course) by Lloyd Kaufman, appears as a human composite of every known nationality. These practical effects and set pieces are so intricately woven into the very fabric of the film that it suddenly becomes commonplace to see a human-sized penis monster sitting on a bench next to a couple of hookers. Media disrupted, for sure. 

There is, however, one final thing worth talking about. Or, perhaps I should say one final person worth talking about, and his name is Lloyd Kaufman. I’ve mentioned this name throughout this write-up, but I haven’t fully stated just how present he is in this film. Kaufman’s Prospero character is the impetus for the plot and serves as the closest thing to a main character in the story, but this wasn’t the only role he played. Kaufman appears in nearly every single scene in the movie, often as multiple characters, and often helping to deliver some of the film’s large-scale practical effects. Keep in mind the fact that Lloyd Kaufman directed this movie. Keep in mind that Lloyd Kaufman produced this movie. Making a movie is one of the hardest things to do, and making an independent movie is even harder, but Kaufman has been doing this exact thing for nearly 50 years. In what has been rumored to be his final film, Lloyd Kaufman has given us the exact movie that we deserved at the exact time that we deserved it. While “Disrupting Media” is the main slogan for Troma Entertainment, there is another slogan which sits on the crest of Troma’s logo. That slogan is “movies of the future”, and although it may not exactly feel like it, the future is now.

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