Please Stop the Hammer Time: Catharsis vs. Futility in Perfect Vermin

There’s a new Thor film out this week. As it’s by Taika Waititi again, it’ll probably involve a lot of quirky humor, surreal bits, and some heavy-duty hammer action offsetting the sads. Naturally, I thought ‘maybe I should write about something like that in the indie horror space?’

 Yes, that’s exactly how I decided upon Perfect Vermin as the focus of my article this week. Certainly not some cosmic coincidence that I played it anyway, thought about writing about it, and then clicked that it would be a great way to tie it into something topical. It’s actually a stretch beyond that deliberately leading intro really, and…sorry, why the hell am I admitting to this? Is it Insecurity? Am I playing a kind of 4D Chess with my intro now? Probably not, I don’t even like regular chess. Barely have a handle on snakes and ladders, to be honest.

I don’t mind games and strategy, but it’s always better with a sledgehammer to hand, ready to abruptly call the contest when I’m on the verge of losing. It’s a futile exercise, sure, but boy, do I feel better when that Monopoly board somersaults in the air after taking a hefty whack from my Hammer of Catharsis. The kids disagree, but I say it builds the kind of character they’ll need for the miserable, nonsensical world of social media in the future.

Perfect Vermin by ItsTheMaceo gets me like that. There is a losing battle at play, and all that can be done is to bludgeon the furniture to smithereens in the slim hope of ‘fixing’ the problem. Just like my Monopoly murder, it’ll likely cause harm in the long term, but in the moment, the feel of that totem of wood and steel is as gratifying in the hand as a microphone during a drunken karaoke night. Raw power in its most chaotic, blissful form.

The simplicity of Perfect Vermin is what makes its stroppy violence so appealing. You show up in an office building holding Triple H’s favorite child, and are tasked with seeking out ‘mimics’ and splatting them like Gallagher. These mimics are quite dim, and pick objects that don’t fit with the environment, so it’s a fairly casual smash fest at first. There are fridges next to fridges, toilets in the break room, and chairs sitting out of cubicles. Masters of Disguise, Morons of Detection.

The beauty of this is that while the mimics are about as efficient at hide and seek as a giggling toddler that thinks shutting their eyes, and crouching next to a chair is stealth, the office itself offers up some surprising twists. There are literally two floors to tackle in the whole 20-minute experience, but ItsTheMaceo pulls a bit of a Portal and throws up some oddball kinks to the formula.

First, a time limit is introduced, then we get upside-down stages, then split-screen of both stages at once, before capping off with a weird, gravity-defying chase through the previously covered spaces. It’s an intelligent way to get the most out of a little, and ultimately ties in to the game’s underlying plot.

After initially smashing up a floor full of these dunderheaded fools, the game is suddenly presented like a news show, with an agitated host encouraging you to keep at it and offering tidbits of advice. As each floor is cleared of the ‘vermin’, the host visibility grows sicker, with tumorous growths amassing on his body. By the end, he’s no longer encouraging you to squash meaty mimic guts, and is pleading with you to ‘just go’. As you finish the mind-boggling layout of the final stage, the game cuts to a single room. A doctor’s room where you are alone and unable to smash a damn thing. The silence is short as footsteps approach. You know where this is going.

A disembodied voice tells the player character about the dire state of their health, but they’re too focused on doing their real-life job to care. Ignoring his fate can be seen in how the game plays out. The body (or chemotherapy) effectively attacks the problem with brute force from multiple angles, but fights a losing battle. The man is combating fate the only way he knows how. He’s given up on treatment and embarked on a fruitless race to keep being ‘useful’ until it’s too late. The catharsis of bludgeoning cancerous growths pretending to be toilets is meaningless, but cathartic all the same. No matter how many times you swing that hammer, it’s never going to eradicate the vermin.

Bet Thor won’t have that.

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