Fantastic Fest Review: We Are the Flesh
Visceral horror probes the necessity of morals
By Richard Whittaker,
11:00PM, Sat. Sep. 24, 2016
Few terms are so ill-interchanged as immoral and amoral. The former takes glee in transgression, the latter refutes the very notion of values. For Mexican psychological horror We Are the Flesh, the question is whether the twisted purity of amorality is ever really possible.
Two siblings (brother Diego Gamaliel and, in a potentially starmaking turn, sister Maria Evoli) find a strange hobo (Noé Hernández) in a seemingly abandoned building. The outside world is a mystery, but implied as a desolate hellhole. The man offers them a peculiar deal: food and sanctuary in exchange for them building a papier-mâché cave in his his abandoned apartment. The sister embraces the offer with gusto, and quickly becomes the mysterious man's tool to debase the brother – or, potentially, become his spiritual liberator.
We Are the Flesh is a spiritual kin to FF 2013 skincrawler Borgman. However, for that earlier film Alex van Warmerdam laid out a twisted, if logical path for how a seemingly sensible middle-class family falls under the titular Borgman's sinister spell. Here, director Emiliano Rocha Minter leaves more gaps to exactly what the man's intention are, and the environment that surrounds the crumbling apartment complex. Is it the Apocalypse, mere poverty, an amplified version of Mexico City, or a parallel everyday?
Minter is unafraid to provoke the audience, with graphic scenes of abduction, murder, rape, and incest. In doing so, the first-time director presents the biggest problem facing graphic cinema. Any low-grade fetish porn director can stick a hi-def camera within inches of any orifice. It's what's done with the image once it is captured that makes all the difference.
While visually undoubtedly contemporary, there's little here thematically that can't be found in in the transgressive cinema and theatre of the Fifties and Sixties. The modern cinematic touchstone may be Gaspar Noé, especially in sexual encounters that fluctuate between intriguingly absurd and just plain disturbing. But there are also shades of Joe Orton, Dennis Potter, and Kenneth Anger – although arguably Minter tips his hand by having Lucifer less-than-metaphorically rising.
Yet while the story may meander, there is an undoubted power to the core imagery, and its usurpation of Catholic symbolism. The bizarre cave's meaning becomes increasingly clear as the narrative strands are drawn closer. Likewise, Hernández's creature is barely human, an atavistic and misshapen troll more likely carved by the Quay Brothers than born. Indeed, it's his charismatic anti-Messiah that smolders long after the final frame.
We Are the Flesh screens again Wednesday, Sept. 28, 8:30pm.