Suitable Flesh – Fantasia 2023 Review

By Naomi Roper

A heartfelt love letter to Stuart Gordon, the creative force behind the much loved Re-Animator and From Beyond, Joe Lynch’s new movie (scripted by Dennis Paoli) is a loose, rip-roaring adaptation of H.P Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep

In the original Lovecraft story, the central characters were Edward and Daniel – here gender switched to Elizabeth (the very game Heather Graham) and Daniella (Barbara Crampton). (The fact that this would no doubt have infuriated the highly misogynistic Lovecraft makes the movie even more entertaining.) We first see poor Elizabeth locked up in a psych ward and the story flashes back to tell us how she ended up in this terrible predicament.

Elizabeth is a rich, successful, highly controlled psychologist with a husband (Johnathan Schaech, having a whale of a time as a pretty, dumb house husband in another clever use of gender dynamics). Elizabeth’s life is brutally upended when she meets a troubled teen Asa Waite (Judah Lewis) who seems to be terrified that his father (played by Bruce Davison at his most unhinged) is trying to kill him. Frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator Barbara Crampton plays Elizabeth’s best friend (and fellow doctor) Daniella. Despite knowing that she shouldn’t get so involved Elizabeth forms an instant connection with Asa which will be her undoing.

Suitable Flesh is a woozy tale of power, sex, sensuality, the occult and eternal horrors that exist just beyond the veil. Lynch shoots the movie in the style of erotic thrillers of the 90s – all power outfits, high heels, beautiful lighting and Vaseline soft focus. The difference is that those movies (with mostly male directors) leered at their female stars and often punished their characters for their sensuality. Here Elizabeth’s newfound sexual appetites are never treated as a joke by Lynch and the (tastefully shot) sex scenes celebrate the female gaze which is something of a rarity even now. (Also hell yes to having a movie centred around a hot as hell 53-year-old instead of hiring some 20-something starlet. More of this please!)

The beating heart of the movie is the friendship between Elizabeth and Daniella. Heather Graham has never really gotten the props she deserves for her acting and she is an absolute powerhouse here. She’s funny, strong, brave and in the end absolutely heartrending. Crampton is also fantastic as the doctor who is forced to come to terms with the insanity surrounding Elizabeth. Their friendship leaps off the screen and is beautiful to watch. Judah Lewis also deserves special mention for a tricky role which required him to hold his own against two women giving some of the best performances of their careers. 

Lynch doesn’t shy away from the horror – a sequence with a car is wince-inducingly brutal and the entire hospital sequence is delightful carnage. Suitable Flesh is a superb, bleak and beautifully acted tale of female friendship and ancient horrors. Highly recommended. 

Suitable Flesh screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival and is the opening night film at this year’s Frightfest