The latest sure-to-be sensation on Shudder, “Suitable Flesh” fantastically weaves together fear, fun, and that other F-word.
Something is about to get under the skin of Shudder fans this week. It’s no less than hellish, and frankly, genre fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Suitable Flesh – the latest foray into genre filmmaking by director Joe Lynch – is a gory, erotic witches’ brew of identity, almost guaranteed to call upon any number of emotions as viewers are provoked, titillated, and horrified by this winding whodunnit of gore.
Heather Graham stars as Dr. Elizabeth Derby, a dedicated psychiatrist and devoted wife. But when she’s alarmingly attracted to a potential client (Judah Lewis) who may be troubled with a syndrome of multiple personalities, she gives in to her carnal curiosities. She finds herself imprisoned in a tug-of-war body swap with a malicious demon.
Now charged with protecting her family and friends from her diabolical doppelganger, Elizabeth must discover a way to break the curse with the demon without losing whatever oneness she still has left within her.
From the outset, the film’s physical effects are the first indication that director Lynch and his crew are more interested in recreating something wonderful than in allowing technology to dictate the tone of the film.
While other productions lean into the contemporary safety of digital magic, Suitable Flesh instead digs deep with its handheld bloodiness and its terrific gore.
It brings an organic look to the film that contradicts most of what’s coming out of genre studios today.
Meanwhile, Graham and Lewis appear to have the most fun bringing the film to life, tearing through Dennis Paoli’s screenplay (creatively adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s original material) and each other.
One (Graham) has the opportunity to play not one but two radically different characters – first, as the mild-mannered Elizabeth Derby and then as the sociopathic demon that’s hijacked the frantically helpless Asa. The other (Lewis) has a more unique experience by playing no less than three different personalities.
But it’s when both actors let the body-hopping demon itself inhabit them that they absolutely chew every bit of the scenery when they appear on the screen. There’s little hellbound joy greater than that of what the picture’s two central stars generate when propelling the viewer into an ever deeper abyss of evil.
But it’s genre queen Barbara Crampton as Dr. Daniella Upton, smoking her e-cigarette and trying professionally to keep it together in the face of diabolical displacement, who steals every scene of the movie in which she appears.
She brings an authentic gravitas to a story that, in the hands of lesser filmmakers, would seem unimaginably bombastic.
The premise alone is a tourist trap for B-list genre films. Still, in the hands of these particular performers and this rather particular director, Suitable Flesh conjures up what made the best of HBO’s weekly anthology of horror stories, Tales from the Crypt, in the 1990s.
Unabashedly inexplicable, irreverent, and juicy in the most horrific and erotic ways, Suitable Flesh is a bloody blend of fright and fun.
And that playfulness holds steady over the entire course of the 100-minute film.
It’s a detail of the picture that shouldn’t go unnoticed by genre fans. Extending well beyond the typical 90 minutes of a horror film, Suitable Flesh allows Lynch to flex directorial muscles that may have been restrained under other circumstances. Yet it becomes clearer with each project that Lynch undertakes that he’s a bit of a journeyman as a filmmaker, suitably adapting his approach to the source material.
Like a body possessed, Lynch, too, works in service to some greater power, and that talent is nowhere more evident than in this production.
Newcomers to and longtime fans of his work have much to look forward to as they anticipate the next endeavor that Lynch will characteristically make his own.
SUITABLE FLESH remains a true emblem of the filmmaker’s talent, possessed as Lynch is with the ability to bring to the screen an eclectic style of filmmaking.
Maneuvering from the 1990s-infused sitcom style of Holliston to the unforgiving violence of Everly (2014) and back again to the whip-smart, provocative satire of Mayhem (2017), Lynch is no stranger to challenging himself in filmmaking, fans have always known. Now, they also know he’s no stranger to overcoming those challenges.
In a conversation of overwrought references to what has become known as “elevated horror,” Suitable Flesh is a welcome change of pace for genre fans.
It never takes itself too seriously by reflecting too much on how the narrative is somehow symbolic of the grossly different aspects of one’s personality and how people subconsciously allow one fragment of their persona to achieve dominance over the others when necessary or deliberately subverting others when the time is also right. This picture doesn’t waste a frame of the production on armchair psychobabble as this.
As a result, Suitable Flesh is instead simply divine, even if it masks a twisted demonic soul somewhere beneath its gorgeous cinematic skin.
And you wouldn’t have it any other way.