UK Release Date: 13th February 2017
Runtime: 80 minutes
Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter
Writer: Emiliano Rocha Minter
Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel
Synopsis: Two siblings wandering around a deprived wasteland of a city happen upon the home of a mysterious hermit who takes them in and, after putting them to work producing a bizarre structure, subjects them to his own nightmarish and depraved fantasies.
Arthouse cinema has a fascination with nightmares and an equal adoration for the notion of the urban dystopia, in which recognisable landscapes become decrepit remnants of what once was a functioning society. We Are the Flesh, from Mexican filmmaker Emiliano Rocha Minter, is a unique and often monstrous film that deals in shock, terror and bodily fluids without any of the subtlety that could have made it worth watching. In place of that subtlety is a fascination with being as disgusting and surreal as possible. There’s certainly a place in cinema for smashing taboos and for daring to travel down unusual, strange paths. There just needs to be some intelligence along the way.
The film follows siblings Fauna (María Evoli) and Luciano (Diego Gamaliel), who wander into a seemingly abandoned building whilst exploring a city that appears to be almost entirely empty of resources and people. The building is in fact home to strange hermit Mariano (Noé Hernández), who seems to have a series of very unusual and utterly depraved desires. One act of temptation sends the siblings spiralling into a nightmare from which they may never emerge.
Occasionally, a film gets so carried away with trying to shock its audience that it forgets how to tell a story. We Are the Flesh tosses aside any sense of narrative coherence pretty early on in favour of a straightforward onslaught of overly lengthy shots of genitals and weird, surreal asides. It’s as if Minter was getting bored of his own film while he was making it. Every time the film gets close to creating a sense of intrigue or narrative momentum, there’s a random splattering of menstrual blood or someone does a wee on the floor.
We Are the Flesh is a frustrating experience throughout because there’s clearly an intelligent, subversive film in there and struggling to get out. There are moments of remarkable visual invention and the whole thing almost holds itself together on the strength of Noé Hernández’s joyously unhinged central performance alone. Hernández is genuinely terrifying as he stalks around the set and he delivers his lines in the kind of breathy whisper that forces the audience to pay attention. His unsettling charisma sustains the film’s early stages and it’s when he takes a back seat in the middle section, giving way to the uncomfortable younger performers, that the film begins to fall apart.
Minter simply does not have even close to the storytelling flair necessary to hold together a film that veers so often into arthouse pretension poisoned by a flowing stream of exploitation trash. What is initially shocking quickly becomes boring and the film doesn’t have the social commentary necessary to justify its gruesome visual style. By the time the finale erupts into the sort of orgiastic body horror bedlam that will be familiar to fans of David Cronenberg’s Shivers or the Brian Yuzna film Society, it’s tough not to wish that you are watching those films instead. At least they had something to say beyond the final twist here that elicits an irritated shrug rather than a gasp of recognition.
The PR blurb for We Are the Flesh comes with a series of laudatory reviews, including from Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, praising the film for its commitment to taboo-busting and pushing the boundaries of good taste. I don’t disagree with any of the assessments dubbing the film “disturbing”, “truly nightmarish” or “feverishly intense”. It’s a real sensory experience and it’s not a film I will forget in a hurry, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It’s certainly a waking nightmare… provided you can actually stay awake.
There are plenty of special features on the Blu-ray, including a brand new video essay about the film, interviews with cast members and two short films from director Emiliano Rocha Minter.
Pop or Poop?
We Are the Flesh is a film that tries incredibly hard to turn the stomach of its audience and, as a result, forgets that it is supposed to have something to say about forbidden desires and the constraints of society. There’s full-frontal nudity aplenty and some intriguing nightmare visuals, but nothing ever coalesces like the best of Cronenberg and his body horror comrades.
Noé Hernández has fun with his loony central role, but director Emiliano Rocha Minter doesn’t have the discipline to funnel that performance into a film that works as a piece of narrative storytelling. He just wees on stuff instead.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
We Are the Flesh is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Arrow Films.