After premiering at the 2016 Rotterdam Film Festival, Arrow Films purchased Emiliano Rocha Minter’s salacious directorial debut, We Are the Flesh, which is bound to be referenced as one of the more grotesque items of contemporary Mexican cinema. A narrative and tone similar to what one would imagine Gaspar Noe’s remake of Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven (2005) to be like, this pseudo post-apocalyptic nightmare is more of a naughty fairy tale, where a Hansel and Gretel-ish brother and sister seeks shelter with an ogre-like hermit, who subjects them to various sexual and physical episodes in what seems to be some kind of subterranean cave removed from the decimated world above. While descriptions of Minter’s film sound more intriguing than the actual subject, this new breed of art-house sleaze seems to be a growing trend on an international level.
Meant as a portrait of man’s ultimate baseness, an inevitability, it seems, when we’re finally forced to face our impending extinction in the post-apocalyptic landscape, Minter takes cues from a variety of contemporary colleagues who have recently debuted hotly touted festival offerings over the past decade or so. Premiering out of the 2016 Rotterdam Film Festival, the title has amassed a certain reverence for those inclined towards challenging and outré art-house provocations. However, Minter’s film quickly becomes merely a long string of one unpleasant grotesquery looping into another, and when paired with the film’s rather monotonously ambiguous narrative, one can only assume such adoration is bestowed by those more appreciate of obvious shock value rather than actual substance.
A brother and sister (Diego Gamaliel, María Evoli) seeking shelter find their way into an abandoned building occupied by an insane homeless man (Noe Hernandez) who quickly lures them into strange make-shift cave where he commands them to first have sex with each other and then join him in various cannibalistic rituals. Distressing representations of sexuality have been nothing new in a recent New Wave of Mexican auteurs—one need only glance over the filmography of Carlos Reygadas (the 2005 title Battle in Heaven serves as a distant prototype for Minter), whose films often include such elements of brazen sexual congress, to see this is nothing new.
Uniting such off-putting, hysterical flourishes (of the kind utilized by Michel Franco) with horror genre elements seems to be Minter’s angle, like a mish of mash of Daniel Y Ana (2009) with Jorge Michel Grau’s lauded 2010 cannibal clan saga We Are What We Are. But there’s a stunted quality here, and the lack of narrative energy numbs the film’s provocative promises, not unlike Santiago Cendejas’ (who was assistant editor on Miss Bala) 2014 title Plan Sexenal, where a couple moves into a suburban neighborhood only to become imminently threatened by a hooded intruder.
What We Are the Flesh does have going for it is an eerie production design and a compelling central performance from character actor Noe Hernandez (also of Miss Bala and a slew of other notable titles, including Sin Nombre) as the demoniacal owner of the cave, who reads like Plato’s allegory stomped upon by Faust’s manipulative devil. But after all the bloodletting and brother/sister copulation (including the ingesting of menstrual blood), the thinness of Minter’s plot eventually becomes too obvious to ignore (despite its surprise reveal in the finale, which only makes its perversions seem a bit more banal). It’s clear this is a kind of allegory or metaphor for humanity, sexuality, and perhaps the impending collapse of civilization thanks to the eventual conquest of the id—except this is so-mish mashed together we could care less about what happens to these constant strangers, trapped in a sexually explicit version of Saw-like torture porn.
Its wacky hysteria will lead to comparisons with Zulawski, but Minter’s narrative doesn’t have any such underpinnings of sophistication (for a more approximate and provocative homage to Zulawski, see Amat Escalante’s 2016 film The Untamed, who understands the inherent possibilities after establishing characterization and narrative texture). Still, We Are the Flesh is outré enough to generate avid enthusiasts, but for those who are easily desensitized by unrelenting grotesqueness, one may find this kind of shock value a bit too transparent.
Arrow Video continues its trend of gloriously refurbishing exploitation items, and this recent title is no exception. Presented in 1.85:1 with 5.1 Surround, this garish shriek fest at least gets a laudable package from the inspiring label. As usual, several extra feature also accompany the theatrical feature.
Virginie Selavy on We are the Flesh:
Critic Virginie Salavy provides this thirty-six minute video essay on the themes of We Are the Flesh.
Arrow includes interviews with Emiliano Rocha Minter, Noe Hernandez, Maria Evoli and Diego Gamaliel. Minter and Hernandez’s segments are twenty minutes a piece, while Evoli and Gamaliel appear in thirteen minute interviews.
Minter’s Short Films:
Emiliano Rocha Minter’s previous short films, “Dentro” and “Videohome” are also included, each ranging from ten to twelve minutes.
Although not as provocative as its potential, We Are the Flesh is hard to forget, and provides character actor Noe Hernandez with a notably nightmarish platform.
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆