Suitable Flesh [Tribeca Film Festival Review]

The late, great Stuart Gordon was the master of adapting H.P. Lovecraft works for the screen, having made the outstanding Re-Animator and From Beyond. He knew how to balance terrifying ideas with dark humor and exquisite gore. Now, director Joe Lynch (Mayhem) pays tribute to Gordon with his own Lovecraft adaptation, Suitable Flesh, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. He’s got a screenplay by Dennis Paoli, the man who wrote Gordon’s horror classics, and actress Barbara Crampton, who starred in them. What could be more awesome?

Heather Graham plays psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby. She’s in a mental institution for having murdered a young patient named Asa Waite (Judah Lewis). Desperate to prove her innocence, Elizabeth pleads her case to colleague/friend Dr. Daniella Upton (Crampton). At this point, the story flashes back to reveal how she met the troubled Asa and got pulled into the seriously dysfunctional relationship he had with his father Ephraim (Bruce Davison).

Elizabeth believes Asa has a mental disorder that causes him to create multiple personalities. The truth, as she learns the hard way, is more complex. An unseen, evil entity is transferring itself between his body and Ephraim’s, and it’s excessively interested in sex. That’s a thumbnail description. To reveal anything too specific would be to take away the thrill of discovering what happens when Elizabeth attracts that entity’s attention and how it impacts her relationship with husband Edward (Johnathon Schaech). Suffice to say, Suitable Flesh has steamy sex, gruesome violence, and more twists and turns than a country road.

Although obviously paying homage to Stuart Gordon, Lynch brings his own stylistic elements to the film. The way he shoots several crucial scenes using a spinning camera is highly effective, as is the blurring technique utilized whenever the entity is transferring between bodies. Beyond that, Lynch is able to achieve a similar balance of eroticism and horror, with a streak of pitch-black comedy rearing its head on occasion. These elements come together especially well during the final half-hour, when the plot goes to some wonderfully, deliriously insane places.

Heather Graham is excellent in the lead role. It’s been a while since she’s had a part this complex, and you can feel her savoring the chance to dive in. The actress perfectly captures Elizabeth’s combination of terror and perverse fascination as she figures out what she’s up against. Barbara Crampton is equally good as Daniella. Her key scenes are in the third act, and she once again demonstrates mastery in hitting the right tone for these Lovecraft adaptations. Judah Lewis makes Asa’s transformations credible, and Bruce Davison delightfully chews the scenery as Ephraim. On his end, Johnathon Schaech is spot-on as the husband who doesn’t know what’s happening, yet ends up benefitting from it anyway.

Movies these days are generally afraid of sex. It’s there as an element in many stories, but rarely front and center. Lynch and company’s willingness to have sex as a prime factor makes the film even more daring. Suitable Flesh is kinky, freaky, and a heck of a lot of fun.

out of four

Suitable Flesh is unrated, but contains adult language, graphic violence, and sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.