Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh ramps up the sex and violence and provides one of the best body swap horror films of the decade.
PLOT: A psychiatrist becomes obsessed with one of her young clients with multiple personalities.
REVIEW: There have been few horror films more anticipated this year than Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh. The buzz coming out of various festivals has made this sound like a blood-soaked, sex-crazed, good time. Then add Barbara Crampton and writer Dennis Paoli returning to the world of Lovecraftian Horror, and my excitement was off the charts. I loved the setup of the film, using Lovecraft to help bring a new flavor to the possession/body swap formula. There are namedrops like Miskatonic University and even Cthulu, so it casts a wide net for Lovecraft fans.
If you don’t consider yourself up to date on all things H.P. Lovecraft, don’t worry, there’s plenty here to grasp onto. Because whether it’s Freaky or Freaky Friday , the body swap genre has many different approaches to take. Suitable Flesh certainly falls under the darker variety, with an evil entity taking over people and jumping from body to body. I love the parallels they make between this and multiple personality disorder. If you were to try and explain this with science, that’s the only logical explanation, so it’s interesting that they take that approach. Even if it means characters are frustratingly oblivious.
Heather Graham is fine as Elizabeth Derby, the psychiatrist who’s trying to help her young patient Asa (Judah Lewis), who’s dealing with someone trying to take over his body. There are a few line readings that feel a bit awkward but she works in the role for the most part. I’d say the biggest issue is that everyone around her is firing on all cylinders and, while this is Graham’s best role since Boogie Nights, she seems rather limited. Especially when she’s sharing scenes with Lewis who is absolutely phenomenal. He embodies various personalities so well but it’s when he’s in his “evil” form that he really shines.
While he may not be in it nearly enough, Bruce Davison absolutely steals every scene he’s in. At this point, I thought I knew what a Davison performance was but he blows past expectations. It’s weird and perfectly suits the hard-to-pin, Ephraim White. It almost seems like a cheat code at this point to cast Barbara Crampton in any horror film. There’s an immediate familiarity and she nails the part of Dr. Daniella Upton. There’s a great moment between her and Graham that I could see living forever online.
I understand that not every character is going to adapt to a fantastical situation in a satisfying way. However, I often found myself getting frustrated with how slow people were to the situation at hand. It’s one thing when someone is expected to believe in the unusual based on hearsay, but there’s constant proof staring them in the face. Specifically, Barbara Crampton’s character sees multiple body transfers happen in front of her, yet doesn’t manage to figure out what’s happening until it’s spelled out even further for her. This makes Upton look a bit dumb, which is never desirable for someone so important to the horror genre. Feels like a misstep to not have her be a bit more savvy.
I’ll admit to having a complicated relationship with Joe Lynch films. While often highly anticipated, I often find myself disappointed (Mayhem) or straight-up angry (Knights of Badassdom). Suitable Flesh is the first time I left one of his films wanting more. I wanted more of this world, these characters, and the kinetic cinematography. There’s one shot that utilizes a car’s backup camera in a way I’d never seen before. While Lynch has been getting a ton of credit, I can’t help but get giddy at the sight of writer Dennis Paoli’s name. Paoili has written so many cult classics in the horror world that it’s hard to keep track, with his most famous being Re-Animator. I’ve always enjoyed the whimsical nature that Paoli takes with his horror. There’s a lightheartedness present, even in the darkest of moments.
There’s something about the sex scenes that brought me back to the thrillers of the 90s. Hollywood is getting way too gun-shy about sex so this felt like a breath of fresh air. I also loved how gratuitous the violence is. They go hard with the practical effects and it could fit in with any other great Lovecraft adaptations from the 80’s. There are awkward moments but none of them really take away from the overall narrative. Lynch brings his best work yet with creative shots and a love for the spinning camera.
SUITABLE FLESH IS STREAMING ON SHUDDER AND IN THEATERS IN UK CINEMAS ON OCTOBER 27TH, 2023.