Felix is not in a good place in life. He’s trapped in a job he hates, where he is overworked and overlooked. He’s in a failing relationship. His boss is a jerk. Life is difficult and isolating.
But late one night working overtime, he uses his boss’s bathroom, where he gets to use the newly installed Japanese bidet, complete with cute interface and talking virtual assistant. And within that bathroom, he finds himself a place where he feels calm and even cared for. Felix then begins an obsession with the bidet, developing an intense affection for the machine. But when his boss begins to encroach upon Felix’s relationship with it, Felix will do anything to stay united with his beloved bidet.
Writer-director Ryan Davey’s short comedy has a plot description that reads like a farce and a visual aesthetic that looks like a corporate thriller, but it also has a serious emotional core that examines just how far someone will go to form and keep a sense of connection and meaning in life, however problematic.
The film is shot very much like a drama, choosing shots and images that allow us access into Felix’s progressively darker emotional journey, while the cool, gleaming cinematography emphasizes the corporate alienation he’s immersed in. But the narrative’s circumstances are clearly extreme and even ridiculous, and the resulting humor can veer towards the dark end of the spectrum. But the writing and storytelling possesses an emotional rawness and honesty that make it as resonant and memorable as a tragedy.
For the most part, lead actor Josh Kiesler plays the beleaguered Felix with genuine notes of depression and despair, which makes his attachment, affection and eventually passion for the bidet even more sincere and funny as it progresses. As their relationship develops — and his work and life outside the office spirals out of control — he begins to border on obsession, leading to a confrontation with his boss that is startling in its intensity, escalating to a dark and disquieting conclusion.
“Compulsion” is aptly named, and while it is clearly intended as a comedy, its willingness to follow its character’s journey all the way through to its logical end offers a trenchant and sharp look at the intersection of work, mental health and even technology.
What happens to Felix when work takes over life and becomes the only identity a person has — and when a machine becomes the only source of solace, comfort and understanding — seems at first silly and unbelievable. But in the end, the story is actually an extreme version of a situation unnervingly familiar to many, right down to the despair and emptiness that drives compulsion in the first place.