Film Review: We Are the Flesh
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A first-time filmmaker gives birth to quite possibly the most unique and simultaneously uncomfortable film of the year.
Believe the hype: even in a year dominated by strange happenings and terrifying realisations, We Are the Flesh proves to be a total crackpot of a release. Packed out with ample doses of blood, guts and weirdly desexualised, but un-simulated sex, it comes marked with a pretty distinct but obvious warning, even from the very first frame: for god’s sake, don’t take your mum to see this.
At times it feels almost as if Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter is testing us with his debut; willing you to just throw up right there and then in your seat, or rather to just run out the door in protest. It’s not an easy watch by any stretch of the imagination, but one that does reward the strong-stomached with some genuinely fascinating tidbits on those at the end of all hope.
As expected, there’s not an awful lot of spoon-feeding either, launching straight into what can only be understood as some form of apocalyptic world, where a lone survivor (Noé Hernández) who trades in flesh of all kinds, offers shelter to a brother and sister (María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel) at the very edges of their sanity, in exchange for a series of darkly sexual favours.
What ensues is a blindingly muddy meditation on what it means to be without order; a kind of proto-High-Rise but set some distance down the line, where cannibalism and incest serve as the very cornerstones of daily survival. Minter deals in not just the basics of how to live in a time past all reason and hope, but how humans might also thrive there; how the mental grip we hold on our governing society may well be worth totally letting go of.
It’s an understandably pretty difficult idea to process, and one that doesn’t fully present itself until long after the film’s outer shock-factor has really worn off. But when it does start to become as equally prevalent as the brother-humping and general necrophilia, We Are the Flesh certainly becomes a whole lot more worthwhile than simply just the exercise in artfully-shot bloodletting it first appears to be.
There is some sort of method to Minter’s supposed madness, and a definite sense of ingenuity from the young, soon-to-be cult fave, toying with the tiniest of budgets in the most inventive of ways. What starts as a rather bleak but frugal use of space soon morphs into a totally inspired low-key set-up that proves visually arresting at times, yet still serves as a steady enough backdrop for the key drama to take over.
And in this sense Minter has found himself an even more invaluable filmmaking tool in his cast: a tremendously balanced trio who manage to play out even the most unsettling of behaviours totally earnestly. Extra points must indeed go to the wide-eyed Hernández though, who grounds even the most abstract of sections with such an urgent watchability that it’s almost impossible to ever really switch off, even as Minter occasionally loses his grip in the film’s second half.
What starts off confidently soon does find itself in frustratingly senseless territory, losing key dynamics and offering uncomfortable images purely just for the sake of it. Somehow things do end up rounding off rather organically, and in the grand scheme of the film’s overall arc there’s not too much damage done, it just results in a few sour notes within an otherwise fascinating piece of work.
It’s certainly not to everyone’s tastes, but above all else We Are the Flesh will definitely take your mind off of the outside world for its mind-bending, occasionally depraved, but mercifully short run-time. Definitively bonkers without ever proving too indulgent; for cult fans and strong-willed arthouse types, this is a must-see.
We Are the Flesh is out in UK cinemas this Friday.
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