Roger Ebert Home

Tribeca 2023: Suitable Flesh, You’ll Never Find Me, Bad Things

The Tribeca Film Festival has been a welcome platform for genre fans, and the 2023 iteration is no exception. The horror offerings span the different styles of the genre this year, with the Tribeca premieres of films like “Final Cut” and twisted tales from veterans and newcomers alike. One of the most anticipated horror films of the year comes from a notable veteran, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, a legend who returns to the screen with his first film in over a decade. Paoli is the king of adapting H.P. Lovecraft, and a regular collaborator with the iconic Stuart Gordon. Paoli wrote both “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond” for the master of horror, and he returns to the Lovecraft beat this year with “Suitable Flesh,” helmed by Joe Lynch (“Mayhem”) and starring Heather Graham, Bruce Davison, and “Re-Animator” star and living legend Barbara Crampton. “Suitable Flesh” is kind of tonally inconsistent—I kept wanting it to go ‘Full Gordon’ and really go off the rails as much as it threatens to do so—but it’s a fun horror flick, one I could imagine finding on VHS in 1989 and losing my mind over. In other words, a Dennis Paoli flick.

Elizabeth Derby (Graham) was a successful psychiatrist before her life was torn apart by the arrival of a troubled young man named Asa (Judah Lewis). Now Elizabeth is in a psych ward, accused of murdering the young man. She tells a friend and colleague, played by the wonderful Crampton, about how she got there, and it’s quite a story, one that involves possession and obsession in equal measure. Paoli uses Lovecraft’s famous short The Thing on the Doorstep as a very loose source for “Suitable Flesh,” taking that tale’s subject of a force that can use a body as a shell to craft a new tale.

With a relatively limited cast and number of locations, Lynch has to get the most out of his cast, and Graham is tasked with the majority of the out-there behavior. She ably sells the different versions of Elizabeth—the real one and the one possessed by an ancient force—with a sly smile, and it’s nice to see her get a part this meaty again. 

Lewis is a little less effective in that he struggles to sell some of the mischievous charm needed for the role at times, but Crampton makes up for it by killing her part. And the real charm of “Suitable Flesh” is the final act, when everything gets wild in a way that anyone who has seen a Dennis Paoli movie should expect. Having said that, I wanted even more chaos—a great earlier scene involving a beheading is such a great “Re-Animator” callback that it sets the expectation for more of that kind of lunacy—instead of a reliance on repeating a few elements of the first hour of the film. Still, this will be a fun one to see with a crowd. It premiered in a portion of the program called “Escape from Tribeca,” which reportedly features films “that make audiences stomp their feet and shout out loud.” I’m pretty sure they did for "Suitable Flesh." 

There’s significantly less stomping demanded by a film like Indianna Bell & Josiah Allen’s two-hander “You’ll Never Find Me,” but that's OK. This kind of atmospheric horror film naturally appeals to me, confining its two characters in a single setting and then bouncing them off each other and the audience. It’s got the sensibility of an Edgar Allen Poe short, the tale of a knock at the door in the middle of a stormy night, and how everything unravels from there. Or does it? Shifting loyalties and suspicions through its relatively short runtime, this is an accomplished little indie that I hope finds an audience out of Tribeca. It would kill on Shudder.

The clearly-troubled Patrick (Brendan Rock) is up at 2 AM on a stormy night. He lives in the back of a trailer park, far from the beaten path. And so it makes no sense when a woman (Jordan Cowan) knocks on his door at this ungodly hour. Ignoring what she could possibly want, how did she even get there? She claims to have come from the beach but has no shoes. Patrick lets her in and offers her a warm shower as the storm passes. When the power goes out, the sense that one of these characters is hiding something grows with each lightning strike. Or maybe both are.

“You’ll Never Find Me” subverts the traditional paranoia of a thriller wherein a lost soul knocks on the wrong door. Patrick is plenty suspicious, and Rock leans into his awkward persona, but his visitor is a bit off herself. What is she doing there? Bell and Allen expertly modulate the tension until the film explodes in a surreal, unexpected final act. It’s a smart, well-made little thriller.

I wish I could say the same about Stewart Thorndike’s disappointing “Bad Things,” a film with a great cast and fun setting that can’t find the right tone or overcome some truly clunky dialogue and characters. Gayle Rankin (“G.L.O.W.”) plays a woman who inherits an old resort from her grandmother and brings a few friends up there to take a look. Stewart leans into “The Shining” of it all early and often—there are even creepy twins—as Rankin’s troubled soul unravels. As her friends start to see ghosts and question what they’re doing there in the first place, “Bad Things” spirals into surreal horror.

Well, it should. The problem is that Stewart’s direction never has enough personality, failing to find memorable imagery or even believable characters to hold onto. We need to get sucked into the world of a film like “Bad Things,” trapped in a single location like we are in “You’ll Never Find Me,” but this tale never achieves that level of atmosphere. It’s flat in both performance and composition. Rankin is an interesting performer (as is reliable co-star Hari Nef), but they’re trapped in a movie that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Thorndike's film feels like it’s raising ideas and never following through on any of them. It may not be a truly bad thing, but it’s not a particularly good one, either.   

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Sweet Dreams
Challengers
Disappear Completely
LaRoy, Texas
The Long Game
Sasquatch Sunset

Comments

comments powered by Disqus