let the corpses tan

Anyone who can bear to stare directly into Let the Corpses Tan may walk away with the sensation that their eyelids are burning, almost as if someone seared them with a scalding hot poker. That’s by design. And for those who don’t mind the pain, the embrace of directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani will provide a masochistic thrill.

This isn’t just gross-out, go-for-broke genre cinema. Let the Corpses Tan begins with a jarring gunshot, from which Cattet and Forzani proceed to fire on all cylinders, deploying a full arsenal of cinematic techniques to induce the visceral response they seek. Color, framing, montage – you name it, they’re using it at full throttle. Edited at the zippy speed of a sleek commercial, this is 90 minutes of pure cinematic sensory assault.

The hyperstylization is not always a positive for the film, however. Cattet and Forzani are firing on all cylinders, for better and often for worse. There are countless occasions they could rein in their restless, jittery aesthetic without sacrificing the overall effect. Must the flicking of a lighter really sound like a waterfall, for example? This is a small example that ultimately has little bearing on anything in the film, yet it’s one of many instances where excess does not always contribute to efficacy.

The directors might even have put this extra energy towards a little more character and story clarity. At times, Let the Corpses Tan frustrates with its uncertain alliances and allegiances on screen. It’s essentially Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire on even more of an acid trip, a maelstrom of fire and fury set along an idyllic Mediterranean vista. As gold thieves arrive at the beachside with their stolen bounty, a barrage of bullets rains down across a wide swath of old homes. Caught somewhere in the crossfire are a series of jaded residents (and quite a few old naked people) unsure how to process the new visitors.

There’s a lot going on here, most of it quickly introduced in the opening scenes of Let the Corpses Tan. Love triangles, gang rivalries, wild fantasies of gold body-painted goddesses glimmering in the summer sun…but any sense of forward motion is held back by the whims of Cattet and Forzani’s filmmaking. The plot and character development exists to such minimal extent that it’s hard to believe the film is an adaptation of a novel. The writing-directing duo successfully transitions the prose to cinema, though they do so apparently by slaughtering any literary elements and wrangling them into the submission of their aggressive aesthetic.

But the film is meant to play better on the retina than on the brain, and after a certain point, full body surrender is the optimal viewing mode for Let the Corpses Tan. The result matters far less than the various flashpoints of heightened emotion along the way. What Cattet and Forzani create is a project of ambition, inventiveness and a fair amount of gall. The sheer amount of filmmaking technique and genre revisionism on a minute-to-minute basis is impressive even if not fully synthesized into a satisfying new creation. Familiar as it may feel, it’s always clever and creative. Cattet and Forzani might have made the quintessential midnight movie: a film that arrests the body while watching but leaves behind plenty of lingering doubts once the experience is over.

/Film rating: 6 out of 10

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Marshall's work has been featured on FSR, LWL, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Christian Science Monitor, Vague Visages & Movie Mezzanine. He keeps going through it because he needs the eggs.