Tribeca 2023: SUITABLE FLESH is a Frustrating Throwback without the Spice

Suitable Flesh, which just screened at Tribeca, finds Joe Lynch making a feature length tribute to Stuart Gordon. The film is based on a H.P. Lovecraft story, adapted by longtime Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli, and stars Barbara Crampton looking suspiciously like she did in From Beyond. It has all the basic ingredients, but is still lacking that je ne sais quoi. One thing I can’t stop thinking about is how the film basically feels like the USA Up All Night version of a much sleazier “Skinemax” flick, with all the spicy bits excised and the violence left in. This doesn’t help its gender swapped premise of a (Graham) psychiatrist at the Miskatonic Hospital, who has a May-December relationship with a younger patient who believes he is having an out of body experience, when he is in actuality possessed by an elder god. 

Did I mention it could be transferred like an STD? 

That first act of this film, which is the more erotic thriller bit, will test even the most hard core genre fans with some very strange sexless sex scenes. They usually involve both parties wearing as much as possible, while writhing around uncomfortably against various objects. This is something that would have never flown had Gordon helmed this picture. I think that alone really neuters the narrative since it feels like it’s ultimately shying away from the sex, which is kinda a hallmark of these films and would have needed to be portrayed much more realistic and authentic way to get us into the next act. Since if your mind perceives the sex as authentic, it will be more pliable when it comes to the violence and supernatural goings on. Is it because Graham is older? I mean she’s simply stunning here and I personally think she could have easily pulled it off. We do get a peek at what that would have looked like later on in the film. But it’s too little too late since I have a feeling most would have tapped out by then. 

This had me wondering, just why did it shy away from this in particular given the erotic thriller was a genre they were obviously attempting to crib from? It had the opportunity to do something completely subversive and empowering by allowing Graham’s character to be portrayed as the sexual creature she is. Especially in a trope we’ve seen play out more than once where the older male doctor takes advantage of the naive, vulnerable female patient. Barbara Crampton’s previous film Jacob’s Wife took that more empowering approach, and it elevated the vampire premise into something much more interesting, because it allowed an older woman to own her sexuality on screen. I don’t know if it was an actor or director choice, but it just made me wonder why go in this particular direction?

Simply put, Suitable Flesh was sadly very disappointing. As a fan of all the various elements at play here, the final product just never manages to reach its possible potential. It was also terribly frustrating, and that first act really tested me as both a critic and a fan. I continually found myself asking if it was supposed to be a parody or was it just failing miserably to play it straight. The one thing that was plain as day was how much fun both Graham and Crampton were having on screen once things got crazy, with the pair chewing the scenery and being total badasses. This at least gave me the momentum I needed to power through the rest of the film, that I really can’t recommend to even the most masochistic genre fans. 

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