Overview: A brother and sister stumble into an abandoned building inhabited by a strange man who tempts their deepest desires. Arrow Films; 2016; Not Rated; 79 minutes.
Surgery Channel: Perhaps the best indicator of what We Are the Flesh entails happened to be in a conversation overheard in the auditorium before the screening began. “I hear for this one you’re supposed to have a really strong stomach,” he said. “Oh, I’ll be fine,” she replied, “I used to watch the surgery channel.” Unfortunately, watching the surgery channel is not enough to prepare you for We Are The Flesh, a film that starts out beautifully but ultimately ends in a bloody, orgasmic mess that makes Pasolini’s Salo look a little like a cartoon.
Bold Beginnings: We Are the Flesh starts strong with the impeccable casting of Noé Hernández as Mariano, the impish squatter, going mad before our eyes while playing devils advocate. The siblings (Maria Evoli, Diego Gamaliel) arrive when he is passed out from drink, and upon his waking make a deal for their right to stay in the building: they’re hungry and tired and have wandered the city for days. A dreamlike film quality interjects from time to time, making arthouse viewers comfortable before ripping that comfort away with cacophonous sound design that borders on inciting insanity. As the siblings participate in altering the interior of their sanctuary, the sadistic smiling gaze of Mariano becomes stronger and stronger filling the room with dread.
Not Your Average Party: Before long that dread becomes reality. Spending so much time by himself in this building has caused Mariano to either become possessed or lose his mind. “Solitude . . . forces you to become face to face with your darkest fantasies . . . you are no longer afraid of your grotesque thoughts,” he says to the sibling who is most likely to embrace his fiendish suggestions. He speaks like a demon, a goblin who exults in the sins of the flesh. This is where things get uncomfortable. We Are the Flesh is not for the faint of heart, it deals with themes of graphic incest, rape, cannibalism and beyond. The siblings chase pleasure and pain in each other’s bodies as Mariano looks on, weaving a web that draws others in and cracks the mind.
120 Days of Sodom: While it is tempting to draw parallels between We Are The Flesh and Salo, only the latter has a point that’s empirically clear. The political and cultural statements are not difficult to find amid the obscene sexual and sadistic atmosphere of Salo. It’s not that the film was made purely to shock like others in the genre, but while We Are The Flesh aims to make some statements about society and desire, they are eclipsed by the horrific and uncomfortable imagery. Time might be on Salo’s side as the sexual situations seem less graphic and easier to handle (even being based on the work of Marquis de Sade) while We Are The Flesh exploits all of the senses ultimately overwhelming any greater message it intends to give.
Comedic Relief: Between shocking imagery and mind-numbing noise is some delightful prose and dialogue throughout We Are the Flesh. Sharp one-liners gave room to breathe and laugh when it was most needed, and though he is stroking himself while doing so, Mariano gives several beautiful monologues that are worth hearing again — if you can pay attention. It is interesting to note the slow transformation of the set from abandoned building to a warm, greasy, womb-like cavern, but again these pieces of beauty are easily lost behind garish and shocking scenes. One could benefit from a second viewing, but that’s a pretty tough sell.
Overall: We Are The Flesh is artistic and beautifully shot, but is ultimately a misstep that will turn even the toughest stomachs. Sadly, it may just become another film that Western audiences watch to prove their fortitude. At best, it will pick up just as many apologists and inspire deep conversation in order to draw out the themes. Because in the end, if you can’t hear the message over the screaming, then what is the point?
Featured Image: Arrow Films