Last month, Apple TV debuted a new miniseries based on the life of Emily Dickinson, rewriting history to depict her as a grrl-power feminist who goes to raves, uses the word “dude,” and has a lesbian relationship. The real Emily Dickinson was a sickly agoraphobe who spent most of her time in her room and showed little interest in achieving fame and fortune as a poet; less than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime. Apple’s Dickinson miniseries is as accurate a depiction of the woman’s life as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is of Norse mythology.

I sometimes wonder: is Hollywood’s blatant propagandizing about the past intentional, or is it because modern people really can’t imagine what life was like in era prior to their own? I first noticed this in 2013’s Gangster Squad, a 1940’s period piece where the protagonist’s wife declares that she married him in part because he was “a demon in the sack,” among other anachronisms. You could write this off as deliberate, but I genuinely think that the people who make these movies are so solipsistic that they can’t get out of their own heads.

This question was in the back of my head as I watched Cuck, the no-budget indie debut from Rob Lambert that bluechecks are billing as the anti-Joker, a woke message movie about the dangers of “online radicalization.” Cuck is a must-see, but not because it’s good; God no. It’s horribly written, preposterously plotted, and a disaster on a technical level. But Cuck is so over-the-top and ham-fisted that it wraps around the axle and becomes awesome. Lambert thinks he’s Stanley Kramer when he’s actually Tommy Wiseau.

The set up of Cuck is so similar to Joker that their simultaneous release must be some kind of gag on God’s part. The movie follows Ronnie Palicki (played by 90210’s Zachary Ray Sherman in a career-killing performance), a twentysomething white male recently off probation for an unnamed crime. He’s unemployed, lives with his delusional, elderly mother (Sally Kirkland), doesn’t own a cell phone (a plot point that is brought up repeatedly and never explained), and spends all his time watching right-wing YouTube videos and having embarrassing spergouts in his filthy room. There’s even a scene where the main character gives his mother a sponge bath, though given that this is an edgy indie flick, we’re also forced to stare at Kirkland’s shriveled, octogenarian tits in the process.

Unlike Joker, which infuses its characters with genuine humanity, everyone in Cuck is a cliché dialed up to 11. The movie opens up with a quote from Kant about man making himself a worm; beginning your film with a quote is the last refuge of a hack. The opening title crawl sees Ronnie reading a magazine titled Weapons of Death at a laundromat as the camera pans past a hijab-wearing Muslim and a pregnant Hispanic woman. The owner of the convenience store where he buys snus is an Arab. Right before that, we’re treated to a shot of Ronnie shooting a BB gun at a rat; nothing suspect about that at all. Why not go all the way and just superimpose devil horns on his head?

This leads into Cuck’s central problem: it’s not thrilling, dramatic, or engaging. Lambert clearly intended this to be a serious movie about how YouTube videos turn disenchanted white men into evil killers, but the downtempo Vancouver late 2000’s-era synth soundtrack is the only indication that we’re supposed to be afraid. Virtually every frame of this movie had me howling like Arthur Fleck because it was ineptly written, poorly acted, or both.

A scene early on is a case in point. Desperate for some action, Ronnie signs up for Plenty of Fish and miraculously scores a date with a cute college girl almost immediately. He then buys a pack of condoms from the convenience store where he works, proudly bragging to the Arab owner’s son (who is studying for his exams) by making jerkoff motions with a mop handle. When the actual date happens, Ronnie creeps out the girl by autistically spewing anti-feminist talking points at her, then physically grabs her when she tries to leave, calling her a “fucking bitch” as he gets thrown out of the café.

The soundtrack during this scene clearly indicates that we’re supposed to feel terrified for the woman, but the writing and acting are so gunshot-obvious that it’s impossible not to laugh. The entire movie is like this: Ronnie does dumb things based on liberal prejudices about how right-wingers think and act, the other characters slap him down, and he spergs out again. Shortly after the date scene, Ronnie has a meltdown on the job where he calls a bunch of black guys “niggers,” they kick the shit out of him, and when the boss and his son show up to help him, he calls them “sand niggers” and gets immediately fired. Even James Fields, Jr., as dysfunctional as he was, was able to hold down a job as a security guard before he went to Charlottesville.

Cuck is clearly rooted in the aesthetic of 90’s indie cinema, that horrific era that spawned so many movies about the evil underbelly of white middle-class suburbia, all conveniently written and directed by Jews who grew up in Manhattan. American Beauty is the defining film of this genre, a maudlin tearjerker in which Kevin Spacey spends two hours trying to convince us he’s not a sociopath and failing miserably. Gummo, Kids, and other indie dramas from this era follow the same bathetic playbook, trying to shock the audience with the supposed Caligulan degeneracy of commuter town Republicans. It’s all so tiresome.

In fact, the only films from that era that stand the test of time are the ones directed by Todd Solondz, because he realized that the “evil white degenerate suburbanite” genre only works when you make it funny. Solondz is also willing to turn his critiques on his own tribe; the scene from Storytelling’s “Nonfiction” chapter where the Jewish vegan kid proudly tells his parents that he’d have never been born if it weren’t for the Holocaust always makes me laugh.

Of course, unlike Sam Mendes, Solondz never won an Oscar, so it’s clear why Lambert chose to imitate the former in his quest for clout and wokeness points. Bad move. Cuck is chock-full of graphic depravity, par for the course for indie films of this type—we’re treated to multiple hardcore sex scenes, frequent shots of Ronnie masturbating, and even one bit where he takes a money shot to the face—but instead of feeling disgusted or concerned, I just laugh. Moreover, all the sex scenes are filmed in such a prurient, voyeuristic fashion that it feels like Lambert made the movie solely so he could have an excuse to watch big black bucks in action.

Speaking of the money shot, that forms the thrust of Cuck’s second act. After getting fired from the convenience store for cartoonish racism, Ronnie offers to do yard work for Bill (Timothy V. Murphy) and Candy (Monique Parent), a swinger couple who live down the street from his house. They invite him to party later that night, and by “party,” I mean “record a video of themselves fucking while Ronnie jerks off.” He subsequently agrees to play the “cuck” role in their porn films for under-the-table pay, a business model that would get you raided by the feds in under two weeks if you tried it in the real world.

At the same time Ronnie is breaking multiple state and federal laws by starring in porn films without signing a model release, he achieves minor stardom as “TruePatriot89,” uploading YouTube videos on the evils of feminism and immigration. He even catches the eye of right-wing superstar Chance Dalmain (Travis Hammer), whose impeccable fashion sense and waxed mustache make him an obvious send-up of Gavin McInnes, with a dash of ambiguously gay federal informant Millennial Matt thrown in. The idea that a dorky shut-in who can’t even talk to a girl without dirtying his diaper can compose himself well enough to become a YouTube celebrity is another leap of logic. Sure, Elliot Rodger loved to upload videos where he whined about being ignored by girls, but outside of his friends on PUAHate, nobody knew who he was before he went out thot-patrolling.

Say what you will about Rob Lambert: he knows his target audience. Cuck is ideological smut for bourgeois liberals, the same people who reply-guy President Trump all day long and hallucinate about Pepe-loving neo-Nazis coming to murder them in their sleep. A movie like Joker makes them uncomfortable because it shatters their perceptions about the evil white men that they demonize; Cuck allows them to retreat into their cocoons, littered with back issues of the New Yorker and David Sedaris hardcovers.

There are other problems with Cuck. The sound mixing is awful, with the music drowning out the dialogue much of the time. During one scene, where Ronnie catches his mom meeting with his probation officer (a clean, articulate black man who his mom tries to hit on; see what I mean about this movie being over-the-top?), the transition from the YouTube video he’s watching to the actual conversation is so muddled I had no clue what was happening and had to rewind. One entire scene, where Ronnie is arrested for stealing checks from his mom, is completely superfluous; after his mom curses him out as he’s being hustled into a squad car, Ronnie is bailed out by a friend of his, then goes back home on the same day, where his mom takes him back like nothing happened.

The wack audio engineering isn’t helped by the actors mumbling their lines half the time, like they were filming in a Midwestern library. In fact, two separate scenes where Ronnie is punched in the face aren’t even shot properly; we see him fall to the ground without a fist even coming close to his face. Boners like these combined with the constant mumbling suggest that Lambert was too broke to pay his actors to do multiple takes, further confirming that Cuck is a vanity project by a swell-headed, clout-chasing middlebrow who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing.

The sad part is that Cuck had genuine potential. Had Lambert done the smart thing and wrote the film as a comedy, it could have been an amusing little flick. Timothy V. Murphy steals the show as Candy’s husband, a pornstachioed pimp and the only interesting character in the movie. Some of the cinematography is quite good; the film’s washed-out depiction of ruined L.A. neighborhoods is reminiscent of Andrew Birkin’s early 90’s classic, The Cement Garden. Thing is, that movie had an otherworldly, surrealist bent that made its central plot thread of the protagonist wanting to fuck his sister seem plausible. Cuck tries so hard to be gritty and realistic that the scenes of Ronnie LARPing in his dad’s army fatigues become a metaphor for the movie itself.

Actually, what Lambert should have done was hire me to do the writing for him. I know plenty of alt-right weirdos whose life stories would make great fodder for an indie comedy. In fact, while watching Cuck, I was reminded of one oddball former colleague of mine. He was a dweeby Orthodox Christian alcoholic who got booted out of law school for being anti-feminist (so he claims) and who loved using snus, like Ronnie does (though unlike Ronnie, my now ex-friend put the snus in his lower lip like a doofus, making him salivate like a dog).

I met him briefly in Mississippi years ago, when I was vacationing with my friends at the casinos in Tunica. I figured he was an all right guy; a little nerdy, but that’s not a crime, and his writing was funny. I ignored a lot of red flags from his online behavior, such as his full-throated endorsement of animal abuse and his claim that he’d been officially diagnosed as a narcissist.

A few months after our first meeting, we opted to travel together to that year’s American Renaissance conference in Nashville. After checking into our hotel room on the first day, he immediately began drinking from a hip flask of bourbon. He was plastered by the time we got to the conference floor, drunkenly hitting on other men’s wives and mobbing RAMZPAUL like a teenage fangirl. After some of my friends agreed to hit up a local bar afterwards, I told him that he was cut off from more booze for at least an hour, to which he agreed. As we headed out the door, he was so drunk that he mistook John Derbyshire for American Renaissance head Jared Taylor, effusively thanking him for putting on the conference, to which Derbyshire just stared at him like he was retarded.

At the bar, my alcoholic friend snuck up on stage and started playing the piano, pissing off the guitar-wielding redneck who was performing old country ballads. He then went around hitting on girls, claiming he just wanted to dance and wasn’t interested in getting laid. He eventually came up to one chick with the killer pick-up line “You’re fat, I’m balding, let’s dance.” She was not amused and shoved him away, he shoved her back, and one of the bouncers picked him up by the neck and threw him out the door like in an old Western movie. We had to buy the guys at the bar a round of drinks to keep them from kicking the dummy’s ass in the parking lot; one of my friends dragged him off the property as he whined about how the fat girl had no right to turn him down.

I did the slow fadeaway with the guy after the conference was over, but he became fast friends with another buddy of mine, who kept me updated on all his bizarre musings. They included bragging about stomping a nest of baby birds to death, provoking a fight with a gay couple and getting his ass beat, and moving to North Carolina to stalk a woman, getting thrown out of an Orthodox Christian monastery in the process. He’s also fascinated with trannies, admitting to me once that he was obsessed with jerking off to Kaitlyn Jenner, who he called the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

This guy would make a great protagonist in a movie like Cuck. The past ten years of my life have shown me over and over again that reality is stranger than fiction; I’ve met so many bizarre characters who will be showing up in my own work at some point. Hell, you could build a compelling film around what we publicly know about creeps like Matt Parrott and Richard Spencer. Terror House has already published multiple short stories satirizing the likes of Anna Khachiyan, Lauren Southern, Owen Benjamin, and more.

But Lambert doesn’t care about that. Cuck is essentially the liberal version of one of those mawkish evangelical Christian movies about the dangers of sin. Sure, Lambert’s film may have tits and swear words, but the underlying purpose is the same: propaganda to shore up the religious beliefs of an audience who live in perpetual fear of the world around them. The inept, flat characterization and George Lucas-tier dialogue are pluses, not minuses, in this context: they allow faux-edgy Beigeists to tut-tut about how horrible white men are.

Joker forces introspection on its audience, makes them consider the iniquities that drive marginal white men into hatred and darkness. Arthur Fleck begins the movie as a harmless weirdo; he’s socially awkward, but he’s not evil, only becoming a monster after suffering countless abuses at the hands of those he trusts. Cuck has no introspection: Ronnie is depicted as a bad seed from the start, a weasel who steals from his mother, hurls racial slurs at random minorities, and sexually harasses women who reject him. His shooting spree at the end of the movie is practically superfluous, a data point on a character arc that doesn’t exist.

As a high-art drama, Cuck is a miserable failure. As an inadvertent cringe comedy from a self-important auteur with more money than talent, it’s a resounding success. I really believe this movie has the potential to be a hit on the midnight movie circuit, The Room for zoomers. In fact, during the scene where Candy calls Ronnie a cuck after he begs her to sleep with him, I actually shouted out “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” I kept imagining how much better the movie would be if you overlaid it with Belle and Sebastian’s Storytelling soundtrack, like the 21st century version of matching up Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz.

My suggestion: grab Cuck on your favorite VOD service, stock up on beer, and invite your friends over to watch. Shout “nigger” at the screen and quote Ronnie’s mom’s hysterical dialogue. It’ll be a hoot.