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Review: Smoking Causes Coughing – “Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist Avengers slash Amicus anthology mish-mash is a glorious slice of strange.”

Released in cinemas and on-demand on the 31st of March, Smoking Causes Coughing (Fumer fait tousser) is the latest film from the French maverick Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Mandibles) and stars Gilles Lellelouche (Tell No One), Vincent Lacoste (Irma Vep), Anais Demoustier (Incredible But True), Jean-Pascal Zadi and Oulaya Amamra.

‘Tobacco Force’ is a French superhero team comprising of Benzene, Methanol, Nicotine, Mercury and Ammonia (Lellelouche, Lacoste, Demoustier, Zadi and Amamra) who don’t endorse smoking but can combine their individual cigarette ingredients powers to give their rubber-suited evil enemies cancer, causing them to explode. Dupieux’s take on the superhero genre is more tokusatsu than DCEU, think Power Rangers as opposed to Justice League, and, as you can no doubt already tell, is as wacky as ever.

With a battle against arch-nemesis Lizardin on the horizon, and after a recent battle saw a lull in unity almost cause Tobacco Force to not be able to use their cancer-giving-explodey power, their boss, a puppet rat called Chief Didier, sends them on a team-building getaway to ensure their powers don’t wane again at a critical time. While at a lakeside resort the team bonds by taking turns telling scary stories, which the film then jumps into, becoming an anthology-style horror film at will and at random.

Quentin Dupieux is a wild, loose cannon of a filmmaker. He is great at coming up with wacky high-concept ideas. The killer tire flick Rubber, for example. But, it sometimes feels like he loses interest in them himself before the film is over. Mandibles, for example. Dupieux also clearly loves horror, having already nailed the genre twice with the aforementioned Rubber and his best film to date, Deerskin.

With Smoking Causes Coughing the measurements are just right. Dupieux melds his singularly silly take on superheroes with his irreverent vision of horror and the result is extremely weird and funny, disturbing and gory, and even a smidge scary in a very well-done suspense sequence in the standout horror story. 

This tale sees a woman on holiday with her partner and friends find an old ‘thinking helmet’ that blocks out the outside world making it easier to concentrate. However, alone with her thoughts, she realises that what she really wants is to kill her boyfriend and his stupid friends, resulting in a slasher with guts and a masked killer unlike any you have seen before.

Endings have never been Dupieux’s strong suit and, as with his recent Incredible But True, Smoking Causes Coughing builds to something and then leaves you wanting. If you are a Dupieux fan you will accept this and revel in the deliberately antagonising ambiguity (and should not miss the post-credits scene), but to others, this could be absolutely infuriating.

Skip to the end:

Quentin Dupieux’s absurdist Avengers slash Amicus anthology mish-mash is a ridiculous and glorious slice of strange.

Magnet Releasing will release SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING in theaters and on demand on March 31, 2023.

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