Frightfest Glasgow: Smoking Causes Coughing (2023)

Director: Quentin Dupieux

Running Time: 77 Minutes

Starring: Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Oulaya Amamra, David Marsais

Opening on a family taking a road trip, an unscheduled stop leads to the son spotting a battle unfolding in a nearby quarry. A turtle monster faces off against Tobacco Force, a Super Sentai style team that battles harnessing the power of cigarettes. While the fight feels inspired by shows like Power Rangers, it ends more gruesomely as the team overload the Turtle Monster with cancer to the point of explosion.

As they're aided by an emotionless robot and ordered by Chief Didier, a super rat that resembles the Ninja Turtles' Master Splinter, it's safe to say Tobacco Force don't live ordinary lives. With an upcoming battle against evil conqueror Lezardin, Didier prepares the group by sending them to a lake retreat for a team-building holiday.

While spending time with each-other's company, and a woman living in the fridge, the team decide to share quirky stories. An early tale involves two couples renting a country house for the weekend, only to discover an ancient device that's meant to purify one's thought process. As a woman lamenting over her life choices meets an unimaginable miracle, causing her husband to worry about the side effects, the story feels reminiscent of Dupieux's last film, Incredible But True (which also played at Frightfest).

A following tale involves a man trapped within the gears of an industrial machine that could destroy him, yet everyone seems unsettlingly calm about the ordeal. It takes an even more bizarre turn before ending on a darkly comedic moment which sticks in the mind. While it feels like Dupieux is inviting audiences to enjoy the shared stories much like his characters, it also feels like an excuse to throw in unused ideas at the cost of losing focus on the main story.

The most interesting elements involve showing the mundanity within the fantastical, something even the villainous Lezardin cannot escape as he's whisked away from evil plans to have a family dinner. It's fun to see these superpowered heroes struggling to pass the time, each with their own personas ranging from virginal member Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier) having an unsettling crush, to young member Méthanol (Vincent Lacoste) being treated as a joke.

The biggest joke is in Tobacco Force, despite their team name, being anti-cigarette. They rationalize it as weaponizing the name and powers against the enemy, while quietly sharing how they differ from their branding. Despite this, the film opens on a song about God being a smoker and shows characters smoking, as though the team are promoting the habit. While they may fight seemingly important battles for Earth, Tobacco Force are ultimately useless in the wider scheme of things. No matter how many monsters they explode, the team are as effective as the message they try sharing. In a way, it's a humorous antithesis to superhero cinema.

Smoking Causes Coughing made its UK Premiere at Frightfest Glasgow