MOVIE MONDAYS: WE ARE THE FLESH

we-are-the-fleshThis week, we take another opportunity to turn the clock back and check out one of the columns written for our Alamo Cinema Massacre column . . .

While Trista was bedridden due to complications from her pregnancy, I did my best to make sure she had everything she needed to be comfortable and anxiety-low. I did the meals prep thing, I did the cleaning thing, and though I could have done more (well, something, I suppose) about the garden in the back yard, I did my best holding down a job that required me to put in forty plus hours a week as well as the writing gig, which included keeping up the column.

Now, some might assume that because she was “laying down all the time” with full access to her computer and streaming/DVD flicks, that Trista would be champing at the bit to watch things and write reviews. Folks who think that have never been put on modified bed rest—it’s only cool as a concept if you’ve haven’t had to endure the lack of control that comes along with it. I specify anxiety-low above because there were always a little bit of anxiety present. Trista is an independent woman, a problem solver. Someone who like to do things for herself. We are partners in this life, but she is not the sort to take helplessness lying down. Unless a doctor orders her to.

Anyway, although I worked a 7-4 shift five days a week, I dedicated lunchtimes and evenings to her. Every so often (once a week or so) she would send me of for me time. These outbound trips would more likely than not give me the chance to hit the movies for a couple hours. I tried to make these excursions work-related (to assuage my own conscience) targeting flicks I would review for the column, the one-off art house/weird exercises. Sometimes I caught things a special feature (such as the rock and roll themed horror triple features which culminated with a showing of 2015’s wonderful THE DEVIL’S CANDY) and occasional wide market releases like FENCES (2016). The first of the flicks I saw and subsequently reviewed for our column was the Mexican production WE ARE THE FLESH (2016).

When I decided on it, I had no idea just what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be a horror flick in a David Lynch vein, which was right up my alley. Oh, silly me. The theater was maybe a quarter full when I went to see it, and we audience members were treated to an original and startling production.

The review went live in February 2017. I hope you enjoy taking this little trip with me down memory lane.

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The Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: WE ARE THE FLESH

By: Daniel R. Robichaud

Synopsis: Fauna (Maria Evoli) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) are a pair of hungry young siblings wandering a ruined city. When they encounter Mariano (Noe Hernandez), a strange old man in an abandoned warehouse, they come to an understanding: In exchange for food and a safe place to sleep, they supply him with labor, helping to build a strange artistic representation of a cave. This exchange takes peculiar direction when the old man introduces them to his philosophy about perversion, spirituality, and depravity. Soon enough, the old man has penetrated their psyches, seducing them with sex and drugs before ultimately convincing the siblings to delve into personal darkness. Incest, murder, necrophilia, blood drinking, and resurrection follow through increasingly surreal episodes that culminate in a debauched orgy in Mexican writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter’s premier feature.

Note: Unfortunately, Trista is on a medically mandated bed rest until April and can therefore no longer go to the cinema for this column. We will still be reviewing flicks together in the old TACM way, but those will have to be films we can see at home via streaming, etc. We will continue to write reviews of theatrical releases, but those reviews come from Daniel alone. WE ARE THE FLESH (2016) originally had a release as part of the 2016 Fantastic Film Festival; 2017 gives it a limited theatrical release.

DANIEL’S TAKE

I could tell WE ARE THE FLESH (2016) was going to be divisive even before the lights came up during the final credit crawl and the audience subtly squared off into the two camps of “What was THAT all about?” and those of us who were more appreciative about what we had just seen and were trying to understand why. Had I read criticism following the film’s premier as part of Fantastic Film Festival, I would have been prepared. However, I am a sucker for seeing things from a position of critical blindness.

This Mexican film is provocative cinema at its best, in that it dares to cross taboo lines without flinching, strives to show the unshowable and dares to have a personal vision. Other reviewers will undoubtedly compare it to films like SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), CALIGULA (1979), or similar cinematic perturbations. However, the film has closer connection to the more phantasmagoric offerings of filmmakers like David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Like ERASERHEAD (1977), NAKED LUNCH (1991), or CRASH (1996), WE ARE THE FLESH offers an assault of intriguing, disgusting, and/or disturbing images that have the tenuous connections of dream/nightmare logic. For horror fiction fans, this movie may be regarded as the ultimate expression of the sorts of philosophical hardcore horrors Edward Lee and Wrath James White have written about, transposed to Mexico.

Audiences who come to WE ARE THE FLESH expecting a solid plot will be disappointed. Audiences expecting obvious answers to any questions the film raises will likewise be disappointed. Audiences who are interested in creating their own answers from an assembly of quirky episodes will be rewarded. Here is a movie demanding more from the viewer than American audiences are perhaps accustomed to giving.

The film begins in a decayed urban setting. This could be the future or the present. We are unstuck in time as we watch Mariano perform several tasks with the practiced ease of ritual. He assembles a boiler of some kind, he connects pieces of wood with packing tape to create a framework, he fills his boiler with fluids and solid matter of dubious origin and then seals it with packing tape, he extracts a flammable fluid he calls “gas” from a mixture of unknown components, and then he uses a flat board and rope system to slide this concoction under a wall and presumably into a section of the warehouse under the ground itself. For his trouble, he receives a gift of a carton of two dozen eggs. Sometimes he gets steaks, instead. After the day’s work is done, Marciano seeks oblivion by means of an eyedropper loaded with fluid and then drunkenly bangs a drum, singing a nonsensical, almost stream of consciousness song as though he were trying to scare the darkness itself away.

This sequence sets up the film quite nicely. It lacks the horrors to come, but its en medias res action plunges its viewers into a strange world without providing even a modicum of explanations. Similar to UNDER THE SKIN (2013), the screen fills with images that are weighty with meaning though it offers few steady indications as to the meaning itself. There is nothing to hang onto in terms of setting details or character histories. Pure action without context may intrigue or frustrate many members its audience, but the film grows no clearer with each passing scene. Even my above summation of the opening includes several presumptions and assumptions on my part. See what I mean by the audience giving things a personal context?

Lucio and Fauna enter this world by pushing up through the floor in one of the warehouse’s abandoned rooms. At first, I wondered if they might not be part of the group exchanging eggs for “gas”, but this is soon revealed not to be the case. They are skinny from ceaseless wandering without food. Do they have families or any identities from before their arrival in this warehouse? No, they do not. However, they spark a change in Mariano’s existence, and they therefore serve as the story’s catalyst. Everything that follows happens because they happened along on this place and decided to stick around. There is no single protagonist, either. All three of these characters take turns in the protagonist seat, shaking up the status quo by becoming a decision maker and a story shaper.

When Lucio and Fauna find the old man’s setup complete with the old man passed out a mattress, they move right in. Soon enough, the old man pulls them into his labors, feeding them eggs and steaks. The youths help assemble the lumber frame, wrapping endless quantities of brown packing tape around joints. In time, they expand their taping tasks from joints to creating surfaces. Well before the halfway point of the movie, the three have changed this conglomeration of unlikely wood scraps and egg carton leftover into a womb-like cave. The walls cease to have any sort of a manmade quality and start to resemble plaster and eventually flesh. This is the lair where the depravities will occur.

The cave is a place of safety from the bitterness of the world outside, a place of secrecy, but it is also a place of nightmares. Here is where murder will occur. Here is where sloppy, messy rebirth will happen. Here is where sexuality will be explored no matter the taboos it will challenge.

At one point during his seduction of Fauna, Mariano offers a lengthy discussion about his relationship with solitude. Instead of running from it, he tells her, he embraces it like a lover. While in solitude he claims to have encountered his own darkness, explored the things society tells him should repulse him, and now he can entertain himself with his own perversions. His new acolytes little expect the sorts of lessons he has to teach.

Soon after, as punishment for a theft, he coerces Fauna and Lucio to perform sex acts, explicit and erotic yet unsettling acts starkly shot. First, Mariano has the girl to perform oral sex on her brother. More acts follow in this and subsequent scenes, exploring a myriad of sexual options, including oral, missionary, and cowgirl positions. In addition, there is a scene of menstruating into an open mouth, and even masturbation. Each is filmed in bright light, with plenty of close ups. Always, these acts operate on perverse levels, provoking, stimulating, and challenging the viewer.

Noe Hernandez’s portrayal of Mariano is a complex one. He had an extraordinary face, particularly his eerie grin. Here is an actor who can leer and glare like one of the great old Universal Picture actors. His cheeks bunch up, his eyes narrow, his head tilts forward, and his lips part to show the tips of his teeth. Whether nearly hidden inside a thick beard or bared on a clean shaven face, that smile is as provocative as the episodes it seems to float through. Does it promise pains he will inflict, torments he will unleash, truths he will tell, or affections he will bestow? In fact, it serves all of these functions and more.

In her role of Fauna, Maria Evoli shows a fearless ability to dominate any scene she participates in. Her ability to transform from a vapid waif to a shell shocked poisoning survivor to a domineering maniac shows intriguing range and ability as well as a subtle awareness and control of her own body. She can march through a scene in underwear and a military helmet, she can seduce the eye by crawling along the floor animal-like, and she can deliver salvos of politically or emotionally charged dialogue with ease and confidence.

Lucio is perhaps the most difficult role in the piece, for he is the lamb to be sacrificed. However, Diego Gamaliel tackles the challenge with skill. We believe his innocence, his reluctance to partake of the weird pleasures Mariano has to offer. We believe his transformation throughout the film. And we believe his undying love for his sister, even when he fends off her lusty advances.

In addition to fine camera work, WE ARE THE FLESH features an intriguing soundtrack. Few songs have lyrics and those are all sung by the cast, often in strange circumstances. For example, a victim selected at random is trussed up and told he will be killed. However, Mariano then starts to sing a patriotic Mexican anthem and soon enough everyone (including the victim) joins him. When the victim is calm, he announces “I am ready,” and then Mariano slits his throat. Likewise, when a sexy song plays over Lucio and Fauna rutting like animals on the floor or their artistic cave-womb, the camera pulls back to reveal it is Mariano himself singing this piece while he pleasures himself over them; his intonations and activities give the lyrics a lurid, unsettling quality.

Apart from songs sung by the characters themselves, the score features some subliminal rhythms during alternating with piercing atonal blasts when a normal situation takes a turn for the bizarre. It can stand alongside Theadore Shapiro’s score to THE INVITATION (2015) as beautifully evoked sonic damage.

The visuals and sound work together to add hellishness to this Mexican variation on John Paul Sartre’s infamous play “No Exit”. Whether the film is a feast of ideas or an empty table, however, will depend upon what dish the viewer brings to share. I certainly ate it up.

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WE ARE THE FLESH is available in DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming editions. It’s a trippy little flick, as I mentioned, and well worth exploring for folks not turned off by surrealism or explicit sexuality.

Next week, we will tackle the classic Boris Karloff vehicle, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1959), available in the Criterion Collection Monsters and Madmen boxed set of sf and horror pictures produced by Richard and Alex Gordon. That boxed set is available on DVD, while the film itself can be found in a streaming edition.

“Movie Mondays: We Are the Flesh” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. It contains material that appeared in “The Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: We Are the Flesh”, which is copyright © 2017 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Images are taken from IMDB.

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