It is perhaps better to approach Tyger Tyger, the feature debut from writer/director Kerry Mondragon, less as a film and more as a work of experimental, stream of consciousness poetry.
In it purest terms, Tyger Tyger (taking its name from William Blake’s “The Tyger”) has zero interest in adhering to any preconceived rules of narrative, form, structure, or composition. A wildly frenetic fever dream, it speaks to a raw, emotional form of filmmaking that will, by design, turn off and shun most audiences. This is a film more interested in the one audience member who stays than it is the 99 who walk out.
That punk rock ethos dictates the whole of Mondragon’s approach as well as his final product, which is as obnoxious as it is beautiful, boring as it is enthralling, and, perhaps above all else, frustrating as it is bold.
Set in a vaguely dystopian world racked by a pandemic (note: Tyger Tyger was shot in 2019) that bears a striking similarity to AIDS, the film follows Blake (Sam Quartin), a sort of medical Robin Hood who holds up pharmacies to deliver life saving medication to people on the edge of society, as she accidentally kidnaps Luke (Dylan Sprouse), a junkie who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Together with Blake’s mute anarchist friend Bobby (Nekhebet Kum Juch), the two embark on a strange road trip that leads them to California’s Slab City, where they’re thrust into the psychedelic underground of life on the fringes.
Mondragon utilizes as mix of professionals and non-professionals to capture the surreal hyper-reality of Tyger Tyger, many of whom are actual denizens of Slab City—a sort of commune for wayward transients on the grounds of an abandoned air force base—lending to the absurdist air of the piece. Fictional though the story may be, Mondragon mines reality—both his own experiences and a more general reality of the artists and free folk who travel the country—to produce a wild, dystopic tale.
While the narrative itself suffers from a lack of cohesion that too only adds to the bizarre and fantastic dreamscape of Tyger Tyger. If this is a film exploring life on the edges, it makes sense that the film would exist on the edges of filmmaking philosophy.
While I’m not sure that the experiment entirely worked, there are moments of sublime joy and beauty to be found sprinkled throughout Tyger Tyger which speak to Mondragon’s potential as a filmmaker. It perhaps bears mentioning that Mondragon—a recovering addict himself—was mentored by Spike Lee and you can almost see moments of the same inspired get-out-there-and-get-it-done approach that first propelled Lee to cinematic superstardom.
Of course, Mondragon is no Spike Lee. Not yet, anyway. But there’s something there, a boldness that is indicative of future greatness that has yet to be unveiled. Should that potential become reality, Tyger Tyger may one day be a fascinating study of an early work by a great director. As it exists today, however, one’s mileage will largely depend on personal preference. Those who bask in the experimental might find a lot to love. Audiences at large? Not so much.
Tyger Tyger is now available on VOD and in select theaters.