Presented by Thai Express

Quebec premiere
Selection 2019

The Art of Self-Defense

Directed by Riley Stearns


Official selection

South by Southwest 2019


Riley Stearns


Riley Stearns


Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots


Andrew Kortschak, Cody Ryder


Heather McIntosh


Sarah Beth Shapiro


Pacific Northwest Pictures

USA 2019 104 mins OV English
Genre ComedyDramaThrillerMartial Arts

“Dark, sinister, and disarmingly hilarious”
Peter DeBruge, VARIETY

“Perfect casting meets a parable about gurus and disciples”

Casey Davies is an accountant. He is learning French. He eats alone at diners. He has a pet dachshund. He is often mistaken for a woman on the phone. He photocopies men’s magazines. His attempts to make friends at the office result in being his shunned. One night, Casey Davies is beaten and mugged by a group of masked men on motorcycles. His usual anxiety is compounded. He considers buying a gun; but then one day, he passes a karate school, and his life takes a strange and dark turn. Under the tutelage of Sensei, Casey begins to transform himself from a whimpering weakling to an aggressive douchebag, unaware that his new obsession will lead somewhere far beyond what he had in mind.

Riley Stearns’ sophomore feature is a twisted tale of the dangers of toxic masculinity on those men who seek it out in an attempt to assert unnecessary power. The more Casey pulls back the layers of Sensei’s teaching “methods”, the more he realizes that his newfound confidence comes from a sinister and disturbed source. Jesse Eisenberg’s jittery persona is perfectly suited to evoke Casey’s transformation, understated until the rage beneath his awkward demeanour lashes out. This is countered by Alessandro Nivola’s Sensei, a calm surface that hides a psychopathic rage, with Imogen Poots as a counterbalance of professionalism and resentment. Stearns once again leads us into those dark corners of American culture that we only glimpse out of the corner of our eye and too often ignore until it is too late. – Shelagh Rowan-Legg