“You’re losing your mind.”
I‘m not quite sure what to make of We Are the Flesh. The lurid feature debut of writer/director/editor Emiliano Rocha Minter, is nothing short of depraved, manic, perverted and really, truly strange, a wild ride into the mind of a filmmaker that might truly be insane and doesn’t give a damn if anyone cares. But it’s a warped fever dream of a film, one that you simply can’t take your eyes away from — no matter what hideous, unholy and corruptible actions happen on-screen. It’s essentially the perfect 3 AM movie. It’s nonsensical, unbalanced, unfiltered and hauntingly bleak, and that’s merely the first 10 minutes. Rocha Minter has made either the most brilliant or the most self-indulgent movie I’ve seen this year, but it’s never short of captivating.
It follows a pair of brother and sister refugees (Diego Gamaliel, Maria Evoli), who look for shelter only to find themselves confined in the company of a filthy, socially alienated old man named Mariano (a remarkable Noe Hernandez), who indulges their darkest, most unhinged animalistic instincts. From there, incest, cannibalism, necrophilia and extreme close-up shots of genitalia divulge. And people thought The Neon Demon was perverse? It’s not merely defined by its extremes but bloodthirsty to see them driven to their maximum breaking point, made by a filmmaker who isn’t the least bit scared to shatter any misconceptions of high moral standards found from his audience.
It’s undoubtably going to be hated by a large number of people, those who will claim that it’s little more than artistic fetishism at its most unpleasant and unsavory. They might be right. They could also very well be wrong. But We Are the Flesh is an unquestionably provoking experience, a film that’s impossible to watch stone-faced and one that’s fascinatingly unwavering in its ill-gone convictions. To write it off as merely masturbatory indulgence, both literally and figuratively, would simply be a disservice to Rocha Minter’s uncompromisingly bold vision, whether it deserves its artistic merits or not.
Beyond its impeccable and encompassing sound design by Javier Umpierrez, its sharp editing by Rocha Minter and Yibran Assaud, its masterfully-composed score by Esteban Aldrete and its inventive cinematography by Yollotl Alvardo, what ultimately defines We Are the Flesh is Hernandez, in a cockeyed, wicked smile performance that, in the immortal words of Patton Oswalt, plays like a Mexican “Klaus Kinski on crank.” Hernandez is never short of astounding, an actor completely unafraid to let his director feed his most insane impulses to provide a towering achievement in on-screen lunacy. It would be more incredible if it was clear whether or not it’s an actual piece of acting, and not merely the performer going off-the-rails for good. Based on what I’ve seen, either or both are entirely possible.
Like an LSD trip through the eyes of a sociopath, We Are the Flesh‘s biggest sin is that it’s simply too unhinged and cracked to sustain itself even for a lean 80 minutes. Its shock factor is deflated almost entirely past the halfway mark, and it doesn’t have the stamina to return to its highest point of hysteria once any inhibitions are completely stripped. Although, believe me, it tries hard to find a new peak of mania at each passing turn, almost to the point of desperation. Rocha Minter reveals his hand almost instantly and far too early, leading you in the insanity-at-play almost immediately and to a fault. His lack of restraint in any way, shape or form keeps him at bay from the cinematic power held by his influences, notably Stanley Kubrick. A Clockwork Orange is a clear source of inspiration here, but Rocha Minter’s film doesn’t have enough attention to character to rise to the level of Kubrick’s masterpiece in crudity.
Thankfully, Rocha Minter never feels the need to explain himself, and that’s what ultimately proves We Are the Flesh successful. Is it merely played for shock factor? Quite possibly, but it’s bewitching and absorbing in its indecency. As bizarre and puzzling as it can be, it’s not satirical in its absurdity. It’s an honest portrait of madness, and it’s all the better for it. Once you let the chaos immerse you, it’s hard not to be entranced — no matter how sickening and unsettling this debut might become. Don’t be afraid to let its unhallowed craziness in. It’s quite possibly the most gloriously insane movie you’ll see this year.
Note: A version of this review originally appeared on Jul 28, 2016