Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani are arguably the most controversial duo in horror. Famed for their mysterious, enigmatic forays into giallo – Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears – they’re the masters of sellable obscurity. Many have interpreted these pieces as hollow imitations of far more genuine works, or otherwise as meaningless collages of horror imagery without a narrative to string them together. To the contrary, I’ve found them to be deliriously beautiful, and sublimely Lynchian in their trust of the audience. With Let the Corpses Tan, they’ve decided to take a somewhat different approach: an unforgivingly violent neo-Western set in a sun-baked Mediterranean town. The change in genre is jarring, for sure, but don’t be fooled: this venture is every bit as ambiguous, twisted, and brutally beautiful as you’d expect.
Elina Lowensohn stars as an enigmatic woman who lives with Bernier – an artist whose brilliance is fast fading – atop a UV-drenched hilltop amongst the ruins of a traditional settlement. Her peace is shattered when, one morning, four aggressive men arrive at her door – with warrants on their heads, and 250 bars of gold in their car. Pretty soon, the arrival of two local policemen further disturbs the situation – escalating into an hour-long shootout that forms the basis of the bulk of the movie.
It’s a film obsessed with taking the real world, and then twisting it into something impossible
So far, so Free Fire, but where Cattet and Forzani really excel is in dragging their creation straight to hell and back. Let the Corpses Tan is resolutely not a horror picture, but the phantasmagorical imagery of their previous works haunt it like a spectre – as a result, it feels less like a shootout and more like an aggressive acid trip. Every shot in this movie is filled with artifice: unnatural angles, oversaturated colours, unrealistic lighting, and strange impossible camera movements abound. Every sound in this movie is heightened to extreme levels: the squeaking of leather, the roaring of water, and the burning of cigarettes are ear-achingly present. It’s a film obsessed with taking the real world, and then twisting it into something impossible: lighters illuminate groups of people in an assaultive blood red, and the appearance of the moon bathes the bullet-ridden village in a shocking-white hue. It’s quite simply beautiful.
But Let the Corpses Tan really excels when it’s pushing the boat further than Instagram filtering – its forays into mind-blowing hallucination are technically and visually stunning. For a start, there’s the ticking clock on the screen that darts forward and backward through time at will for the first half of the film – telling each part of the story through the different eyes of the protagonists. Then there’s the reoccurring motif of ants, first on a picture of the moon and then on a map of the village, to symbolise the shooters scurrying around the ruins. Then there’s the reoccurring masochistic sex flashbacks, shot in oversaturated Jodorowsky blue, and complete with ground-up shots of urination. Most impressively, however, is the moment in which ether becomes introduced into the mix, and the visual spectrum of the film descends into outright trippiness. Neon Demon-esque scenes of pure visual beauty – melting gold, shimmering sparks, and one particularly crazy moment involving strobes, a machine gun, and a character’s clothes do nothing less than stun the audience with their sheer inventiveness and aesthetic nature.
There are love triangles, long lost spouses, lawyers, betrayals, plots, gangs, the shifting positions of the police, and varying amounts of intoxication.
This is a masterful film: one that takes one of the most integral setups in film, the shootout, and completely turns it on his head. Wheatley’s work delighted in the simplicity of a duplicitous warehouse brawl; whereas Cattet and Forzani’s layers on the complexity until it becomes meaningless. There are love triangles, long lost spouses, lawyers, betrayals, plots, gangs, the shifting positions of the police, and varying amounts of intoxication. ‘Who is fighting who?’ we might ask at several points, until it becomes clear that the sentiment is largely irrelevant: all these men are driven by greed, and seek only to serve themselves. This also, it seems, has solved the problem that many had with Cattet and Forzani to begin with: that their films were largely illogical and plotless. Let the Corpses Tan demonstrates just how much plot can be slotted into what is traditionally a very simple situation. Combine this with the visual excellence described above, and add a kickass soundrack (think Morricone), and you’ve got a hit on your hands.
It’s a brain-melting, drug-fuelled, hyper stylised fun: a synesthesic trip into a delirious dream. It is, one might say, a perfect midnight movie: shockingly violent, beautifully presented, and yet elegantly simple. Of course, it’s not for everybody, but if you’re up for a heady dose of sex and gore, washed over by every in-camera and practical effect under the sun, then it’s one of the most rollicking, crazy rides you’ll have this year.
Image: Kino Lorber 2017