Features and Columns · Movies

Bad Trip, Good Scene: The Anatomy of a Great Movie Drug Trip Sequence

Grab your water and your trip babysitter, lads, we’re going under!
Mandy Trip Sequence
By  · Published on April 24th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores what makes for a good movie drug trip sequence.

There are at least two instances when a movie might throw all logic out the window in favor of transportive phantasmagoria: a musical number and a drug trip. (And, if you’re really lucky, both at the same time).

Sure, having your film go completely off the rails when a character partakes in a choice narcotic is a little overplayed. But so is butter on popcorn. And guess what? I’m not tired of it yet. Even if the character is having a bad trip, drug sequences are always a good time: they’re a fun escape hatch into a much bolder and expressionistic visual language. They’re a break from the familiar rhythms of naturalism, medium close-up shots, and the laws of physics.

So, I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t like cinematic trip sequences, you’re a big ole’ square. The video essay below unpacks the various hallmarks of a trip scene, from the different approaches to “acting high” to the ways that the cinematographer can convey paranoia and a loss of control. The essayist smartly highlights the two (two!) trip sequence in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy: one hypnotic facial melange and the other, a literal face-melter.

The essay also does a great job of underlining how drug trip sequences aren’t just style exercises. Though let’s be honest, a little wildin’ out in the style department never hurt anyone … except maybe Nic Cage’s melted face in Mandy.

If you are sensitive to strobing, be mindful that the video essay below contains flashing title cards.

Watch “Trip Sequences”

Who made this?

This video essay on what makes for a good movie trip scene is by Karsten Runquist, a Chicago-based video essayist. You can check out Runquist’s back catalog and subscribe to his channel on YouTube here. You can follow Runquist on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.