BUFF, Film, Film Review

BUFF REVIEW: Off Ramp (2023) dir. Nathan Tape

Part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festival


How does one write about Juggalos in the year 2024?

Juggalos, for the unaware, are the loyal and improbably enduring devotees of Insane Clown Posse, the ‘90s-vintage Detroit-based “horrorcore” rap duo known for their macabre lyrics and signature clown-white makeup. Though superficially similar to such musical fandoms as Deadheads or the KISS Army, Juggalo culture has evolved into something resembling a cult, complete with a complex mythology involving horror movie imagery, quasi-Christian spiritualism, and discount soda brand Faygo. The subculture has attracted its share of derision: the FBI designated the Juggalos as a gang affiliation in 2011, and they became a popular internet punchline thanks largely to the (admittedly deeply silly) music video for ICP’s “inspirational” track “Miracles.” 

But a funny thing has happened in recent years. As the culture at large has grown increasingly dark and hostile towards those it deems “outsiders,” this fringe sect of grease-painted weirdos has begun to look more and more reasonable. For all their violent posturing, Juggalo culture is built around acceptance of differences, and has provided community and creative outlet to thousands who would otherwise be branded as misfits, particularly in rural and impoverished parts of the country. As director Nathan Tape explained in the Q&A following the BUFF screening of his new Juggalo-themed road comedy Off Ramp, he initially approached his screenplay with a mocking eye toward his subjects, but the more he researched and spent time with his subjects, the more he began to discover an odd sort of beauty. Time, it seems, makes Juggalos of us all.

The protagonists of Off Ramp are Trey (Jon Oswald), a lanky Juggalo fresh off a year in a Mississippi penitentiary, and his best friend Silas (Scott Turner Schofield) an aspiring rapper with a truly indescribable hairdo. The pair are on their way to the Gathering of the Juggalos (the infamous yearly festival which serves as a mecca/bacchanalia for the ICP converted), but Trey is wary: he’s on his third strike, and wants to avoid any legal trouble so he can settle down and convert his “Hatchet Wagon” into an ice cream truck. This plan goes almost instantly awry when a hard-nosed southern officer pulls the pair over and immediately discovers their stash of illicit substances; Silas, naturally, defuses the situation by dosing the cop with an LSD-filled squirt gun. From there, our heroes embark on a mad dash to evade the law, make it to the Gathering, and achieve their dreams of Psychopathic superstardom.

I’m going to say this right now, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression with the rest of my review: Off Ramp truly is a wild and crude ride of a movie. Its central characters are as hilariously profane as any created by Kevin Smith; upon seeing a beautiful woman, Silas exclaims that he’d “eat a gallon of shit just to buy a bag of her tampons.” Our heroes are constantly smoking weed, guzzling “Juggo Juice,”*, and sprinkling crystal meth on their fried chicken. The film is full of bloodshed, wanton property destruction, Satanic rituals, and a general disregard for authority and social norms in all their shapes and guises. This is a film which gleefully spins donuts in your lawn, cranking its music while you shake your fist from the front porch.

And yet– and I can scarcely believe I’m typing this– Off Ramp is one of the most genuinely sweet and compassionate comedies you’re likely to see this year, with or without demented white-trash clown enthusiasts. There is a sense that Tape truly cares about his characters, and that they care about each other. As the film goes on and we learn more of the contours of Trey and Silas’ friendship (including one revelation which I won’t reveal here, but which is really quite remarkable), we begin to get a sense of what this incredibly odd subculture means to its practitioners. Trey and Silas aren’t related by blood, but they see themselves as brothers, and it seems pretty likely that neither would have made it past their mid-20s without each other’s love and support. By the end, when they describe the Gathering as “Shangri-La,” you honestly believe them.

I was also not prepared for how visually stunning Off Ramp would be. Tape, a cinematographer by trade, described Off Ramp as his “Terrence Malick Juggalo movie,” and one can tell that he’s only half joking. Much of the film takes place in the sun-dappled meadows off the deep-south interstate, the magic-hour glow contrasting with the characters’, uh, unique hair and makeup choices. Indoor scenes, whether set in truck-stop convenience stores or the lair of a paraplegic Juggalo crime boss, feel authentic and lived-in. Even the footage of the Gathering itself (which I assume is authentic, because how could you fake that?) takes on the rich tone of a David Attenborough nature documentary. Like Juggalo culture itself, Off Ramp finds an odd sort of beauty in deliberate ugliness.

Of course, Juggalos aren’t known for their tonal consistency, and Off Ramp doesn’t always pull off its balancing act between vulgarity and empathy. There are moments when sentiment can’t quite offset the characters’ aberrant behavior, and beats in which it’s not fully clear whether we’re meant to laugh or gasp. In particular, a subplot involving a local politician’s dark secret gets a little too heavy, and threatens to overwhelm the proceedings entirely. At the last moment, however, this sequence manages to loop back around and become so outrageously dark as to become the sort of bad taste spectacle one would expect from the phrase “Juggalo-themed BUFF selection.” By the time the end credits rolled– over a ukulele cover of “Miracles,” no less”– I, too, found myself down with the clown. As a wise man once said: whoop, whoop.

* – Despite the central role its product plays in Juggalo culture, the makers of Faygo are extremely uncomfortable with their association with ICP, and almost certainly denied Tape the rights for product placement. The official Faygo website, which features footage of young urban professionals toasting bottles of neon-colored soda, is a hilarious corporate example of trying to force the toothpaste back into the tube.

Off Ramp
dir. Nathan Tape
91 min.

Part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festivalclick here to follow the Hassle’s continuing BUFF coverage!

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