The classics earn their name for their timeless relevance. The tales can find relevance in any age as long as they are applied and adapted by the right creative team. Hippo, a loose retelling of the tale of Hippolytus, infuses the story with modern taboos. While the key components of the tale remain intact, the new lens forces audiences to confront an upsetting story of isolation, death, and an aggro fear of sexual tension.

Director Mark H. Rapaport tells Hippo with a surprisingly comedic tone. The young Hippo (Kimball Farley) carries himself with prideful arrogance about his importance to the world. While he knows nothing about sex or human reproduction, he believes he will become a great warrior. His step-sister Buttercup (Lilla Kizlinger) lusts after him, but Hippo does not recognize her advances. One night, she brings Darwin (Jesse Pimentel) to the family’s home. As the teen’s mother Ethel (Eliza Roberts) prepares dinner, the tensions begin to heighten in the home.

Rapaport takes a darkly comedic tone in developing the story of Hippo. The movie actively plays up the upsetting humor present within the tale and leans into the disgust one might feel from incestuous relationships. Yet even that darkness is not the only one present in the story. As Rapaport peels back the layers on Hippo the boy and his family, the dreadful reality becomes all-consuming.

Farley crafts Hippo in the vein of an angry incel boy. His anger and penchant for military might hide his more sensitive, self-conscious creature. He plays up the heightened anger of the character, and for the most part it hits the tone Rapaport is aiming for. The standout comes from Kizlinger, who must balance a woman trying to embrace her sexuality while showing genuine interest in the character Farley creates. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and Kizlinger never makes it feel cartoonish.

The only issue with walking the absurdist line Hippo hopes to walk is the difficulty in holding emotional stakes. While the Rapaport mostly accomplishes this task, there are moments when the comedy overrides sentimentality. While this provides Hippo with some genuinely hilarious moments, it also causes a few to miss the mark. Combined with a narrator (Eric Roberts) that feels superfluous, the storytelling needs some refinement.

While Rapaport brings interesting themes and visual storytelling, the narrative hits some snags. With more refinement, Hippo might have taken a leap forward. It’s clear that Rapaport’s heart is present throughout the film, but a slicker storyline without an extra twist or two might have yielded more emotional rewards.

Alan’s Rating: 6/10

What do you think of Hippo? Let us know in the comments below! Catch Hippo at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival.

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