Our Fantastic Fest coverage continues with these highlights from the genre film festival in Austin, Texas.
Director Joe Lynch has often managed to give known-quantity actors a platform to do something unexpected, in films such as Mayhem with Steven Yeun and Everly with Salma Hayek. And with his latest, Suitable Flesh, he pushes Heather Graham into genre territory that I’m guessing many of us haven’t seen her attempt before. Adapted by Dennis Paoli from the H.P. Lovecraft short story The Thing on the Doorstep, the film is part throwback to 1980s and 1990s erotic thrillers, thrown into a blender with, well, Lovecraft’s kinky, other-dimensional demon fetish. Graham stars as psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby, a happily married woman (to Johnathon Schaech, who never seems to be wearing a shirt) who has a young man (Judah Lewis) stumble into her office claiming an entity is attempting to take over his body, once it is done using and abusing the body of his father (Bruce Davison). She assumes the young man is mentally ill and is prepared to take pity on him when she witnesses a severe personality shift in him, from scared, cowering kid to horny bastard.
Before long, Derby finds herself visiting the young man at his family home where she meets the dying father and is eventually seduced by her seemingly possessed new patient. Shortly after, she begins to lose periods of time in her day and begins to suspect that this entity has discovered the joys of trying out a woman’s body for the first time. She attempts to get an analysis of the situation from her best friend and fellow doctor, Dani Upton (Queen of Lovecraft Barbara Crampton), but it’s clear that saying out loud what she thinks is going on will make her sound insane. With her marriage and even life on the line, Derby does everything in her power to make certain the demon never takes full possession of her body, even if that means killing. Suitable Flesh is bizarre, bloody, and did I mention horny?
Based on an unproduced Stuart Gordon script, the film gender-swaps its source material’s characters and isn’t afraid to dismantle the usual Lovecraft male-centric tale in order to examine body exploration, fidelity and the sexuality of middle-aged women, which may make some people uncomfortable. But if it were a 50-something man with a 20-something woman, I don’t think anyone would blink. Graham and Crampton absolutely capture these two very different women whose bond as friends is what carries them through this ordeal. As mentioned, the film also dabbles in a great deal of bloodletting, and it’s rare that one about eroticism also makes for a solid horror movie, but that’s Suitable Flesh at its core. There’s a great deal to dissect here, and thankfully there are plenty of scalpels handy in this film.
The film will be released theatrically and via VOD on October 27, followed by a streaming release on Shudder in January 2024.
The Book of Solutions
My admiration for director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) knows no bounds, but even I will admit that his 2013 work Mood Indigo (which starred the great Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou) is a bit of a self-indulgent head-scratcher. With this in mind, imagine my shock when I found out that his latest film, The Book of Solutions, was a barely veiled retelling of his experience making Mood Indigo, during which he may have slightly lost his mind and certainly, frequently lost his focus.
Pierre Niney stars as filmmaker Marc (clearly a stand-in for Gondry), who is on the verge of finishing whatever his latest work is, but he refuses to takes notes from his producers to the point where he steals the editing equipment and the only copy of the film and takes it to a remote location—his aunt Denise’s (Françoise Lebrun) country house—with a small post-production team along for the ride. Much of Marc’s behavior in the country seems like that of a drug addict, obsessing on things that have almost nothing to do with the work he is supposedly there to do. He immediately dreams up new sequences for the film and even starts envisioning his next movie, much to the frustration of his team. At one point, he decides Sting needs to compose and perform a song on the soundtrack, and lo and behold, Sting himself shows up in a very funny cameo to record said track.
But Marc also wants to write a manual of sorts for solving the world’s problems through creativity and artistry, because in his manic state of mind, he’s figured out these solutions, when in fact he can’t get his own work done with any amount of expediency. And when we get glimpses of this book, it’s sketches and charts that no one else could possibly comprehend. Like all of Gondry’s work, his fingerprints are all over this version of reality. We get glimpses of the work the way Marc sees it, and it all seems conceptualized and pieced together by a child-genius. The fact that Gondry seems self-aware of his own self-imposed impediments seems like a step in the right direction mentally for him, but the whole movie is so bizarre and jittery, and Marc’s behavior is sometimes insufferable, that it may be a turn-off for some viewers. I get that, but Gondry’s style of magic is like pure joy fuel for me, and the further he strays from boring-old reality, the more I enjoyed this work.
Writer/director Robert Morgan (The Cat with Hands; The ABCs of Death 2) is one of the top tier creators of grotesque stop-motion animation, so it should come as no surprise that his first feature-length film concerns a stop-motion animator named Ella Blake (Aisling Franciosi, The Nightingale), who has spend most of her life living in the shadow of her influential animator mother (Stella Gonet, who played The Queen in Spencer), who is attempting to finish what she believes will be her final film but with Ella doing all of the precision work since her mother’s health is failing. When her mother dies, Ella struggles to complete the work and even gets an apartment to use as a work space. There, she meets an unnamed neighbor girl (Caoilinn Springall), who thinks the current film is boring and suggests a much more intriguing narrative that gets Ella very excited about beginning a new project. Ella becomes so increasingly fixated on this new work that she has difficulty distinguishing between reality and her surreal, sometimes-terrifying animated world, and before long the two worlds begin to blend.
Aside from Franciosi’s gripping performance, Stopmotion works because the story (from Moran and co-writer Robin King) is so unique and the top-tier visuals are so haunting. The melding of live action and animation isn’t a gimmick but a glimpse into Ella’s troubled soul; combined with Léo Hinstin’s tone-perfect cinematography, we’re taken on a journey into our protagonist’s complete meltdown that ends in one of the more intense climaxes in recent memory. Morgan is an absolute master of his animation craft, but Stopmotion also proves without doubt that he’s more than capable of working with live actors and creating something that feels new and devastating. One of the best films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year.