Vulcanizadora [Tribeca Festival Review]

The appeal of Vulcanizadora is that it’s impossible to categorize. Writer/director Joel Potrykus (Relaxer) intentionally blends together opposing tones, leaving viewers uncertain how to react at any given second. He also keeps you in the dark as to what, specifically, the movie is about until close to the end. Heck, I didn’t even realize I liked the picture until it was almost over. This fascinatingly oddball work screened in the US Narrative Competition section of the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

Derek (Potrykus) and Marty (Joshua Burge) are differently tempered friends hiking deep into the forest. The former is a chatterbox whose views on life have changed after becoming a parent, the latter an accused arsonist who feels guilt over his crime. (He also fiddles with a bizarre metal contraption.) They walk for a long time, headed to an unknown destination for a purpose we’re not sure of. Then we find out. I could give you a million guesses what they do and you’d still be wrong every single time. You might laugh, you might recoil in horror, or you might do both simultaneously, as I did. One of the men returns to society, where he must deal with the repercussions of what happened.

That’s literally all that can be said about Vulcanizadora without giving away the whole thing. A very strong theme emerges in the final half hour. Telling you what that theme is, though, would diminish the impact of the experience. Not knowing where the film is taking you is precisely the point. For almost an hour, it seems to be going absolutely nowhere. Then you suddenly find yourself at a destination you didn’t even see coming, and it hits harder than you could have anticipated.

To keep you off-balance, Potrykus deftly avoids settling on a specific tone. Wacky buddy comedy bumps up against unexpected profundity, then slams into horror, heartbreak, and a keen sense of humanity. Often, multiple emotions are evoked at once. Sequences of absurdity blend into moments of deep emotion. Watching Vulcanizadora is like attempting to cross an unfamiliar room while blindfolded. You randomly hit stuff you didn’t know was there.

I realize I’ve written a lot of words telling you why I can’t tell you much about Vulcanizadora, so let’s sum it up this way: The movie is purposefully disorienting, and any adventurous movie buff will want to savor its beautiful, ugly, hilarious, hellish vision.


Vulcanizadora is unrated, but contains strong language, violence, and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan