A heady brew of sex, drugs and nihilism, Acid (Kislota), the directorial debut of 26-year-old actor Alexander Gorchilin, dissects the rigid societal pressures of the modern Russian man, with mixed results. Sasha (Filipp Avdeev) and Petya (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), two bros in their early twenties, struggle with a path forward after their friend flips out and jumps off a balcony. Their friendship starts to deteriorate when, after a night of partying (and a silly monologue by the film’s sole gay character), Petya commits a shockingly self-destructive act with a corrosive chemical. Acid follows these young men in crisis, as they embark down two distinct paths and eventually reconnect in a unforgettable church-set climax.

Although the film opens with LSD-induced tragedy, and there’s a hilarious out-of-left-field hallucination near the end, the mood is far less druggy than, say, Trainspotting. Stiff, frigid, and unpleasant, Acid works as a scathingly critical look at Russia, where church and state suffocate the youth into submission, leaving little room for freedom and creativity. Patriarchal values are promoted, but the families are broken; strict gender roles are adhered to, with violence as the way men settle things. After diffusing an argument with words, one character says to another: “You know I still have to hit you, right?” The Russia depicted here is severely hostile towards artists, with Sasha’s dreams of being a musician ridiculed, even by his best friend. Avdeev and Kuznetsov are both gifted actors, but their friendship is cold and unconvincing. This is where the film loses its way, struggling to form an effective coming-of-age story around two such broken, unlikeable people. Gorchilin’s film has the clumsy pretensions of a grand manifesto for the next generation, but offers few solutions to their problems other than to douse everything in acid.

Acid | Directed by Alexander Gorchilin (Russia 2018) with Filipp Avdeev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov. Starts August 8.

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