"Manodrome" offers an unnerving character study with a chilling Jesse Eisenberg

Manodrome (2023)

Masculinity is terrifying in “Manodrome,” an unnerving and compelling character study on the level of “American History X.” Although not by traditional standards, this is a nihilistic horror film through and through, if only that the horrors presented here within an incel cult could very well exist in plain sight. One will recoil but remain gripped, like watching an irreversible car accident unfold in slow-motion.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Ralphie, a Syracuse ride-share driver who’s recently been laid off from his maintenance job. Things are financially tight, especially with a baby on the way with pregnant girlfriend Sal (Odessa Young). Ralphie takes his frustrations out by weightlifting at the gym and eying up a gorgeously sculpted bodybuilder (Sallieu Sesay). Soon, he joins his drug-dealing gym buddy (Philip Ettinger) for a night out with a group of men, led by Dad Dan (Adrien Brody). All of them involuntary celibates, they’re like a “chosen family” living together under one roof (Evan Jonigkeit and Ethan Supple being the most recognizable faces). Dan, in particular, sees something in Ralphie, telling him to take back his power. As Ralphie gets indoctrinated, he becomes even less ready to become a father (especially to a daughter), leading him down a path of destruction.

Coming off his 2017 LGBTQ+ film “The Wound” (which was briefly banned in his home South African country), queer writer-director John Trengove builds a tone of foreboding, planting us inside Ralphie’s sexually repressed head. Popping pills and adopting an even more agro frame of mind, Ralphie may or may not be experiencing everything we see. Is the Salvation Army Santa Claus outside Sal’s grocery-store workplace really exposing himself to Ralphie on the street? A scene where Ralphie picks up a gay couple outside a club builds tension as the couple begin making out in the backseat, until it just ends; did it actually happen? The film never actually coddles Ralphie or makes us sympathize with him, but it does make us believe that he’s just one of many men to buy into these radicalized ideas of what a man can be. Read the full review at GuyAtTheMovies.com

Grade: B +

Lionsgate released "Manodrome" (96 min.) in theaters on November 10th, 2023, followed by an on demand and digital release on November 17th.