15 Sep 2021
Imani Love, Rick J. Kock
Not one to watch on a full stomach, Rotten Meat is a subversive short thriller about consumption, validation, and desperation which is unnervingly unique in presentation but relies a little too much on symbolism to immerse viewers fully.
Carmen (Imani Love) reflects on an affair with her boss, plastic surgeon Dr. Adrian Carmichael (Rick J. Koch). Her time spent with the doctor triggered an obsession with self-perfection, which resulted in botched facial surgery - ruining her natural beauty. Carmen plots a reunion with her former lover – but her damaged face mirrors the mental scars he inflicted – and her plan begins to spiral off the rails.
Rotten Meat is a short, arthouse-style film which follows a recent trend set by the likes of Raw which use macabre imagery and shocking, consumption-based plots to make powerful statements about modern society. There is a risk, with such a controversial basis, that any statements films like this make will be overshadowed by gory, vomit-inducing horror. But Rotten Meat walks this line carefully, biding its time and slowly building tension throughout before unleashing its hidden gore in a powerful, more meaningful manner.
The result is a furious critique of modern beauty culture, obsession and pressure young women face in a society that views them as objects to consume. The contrast between the Carmen that viewers meet in the film’s opening flashback, and the Carmen who has been butchered by surgeons and suffered a mental breakdown is striking. Her vengefulness against Dr. Carmichael is clear to see, and evidently emanates from somewhere deeper than a bad breakup. His dismissiveness towards her when invited over for dinner casts the doctor as an unsympathetic character – and despite Carmen’s horror-villain tendencies, her plan never feels unwarranted – at least until things get really crazy…
The plot is straightforward and minimalist, with the film effectively establishing its characters and key moments, whilst trusting in its characterisation enough to allowing audiences to fill in some key gaps in their backstories. There are some moments that fall short however, and feel frustratingly undercooked in important moments. Dr. Carmichael’s choice to stay for dinner in Carmen’s apartment once he figures out there is no emergency feels under-explained, given it is so powerfully evidenced that he cares little for his ex-mistress. When things turn threatening, it is especially strange that he would not leave, and the film could have tried harder to cement a reason for him to stay. Viewers may feel somewhat thrown off by this moment.
The film’s production is stylish and artistic, with modernist filming techniques giving the short an inimitable feel. Long shots of direct eye contact with the camera by the cast become surprisingly unnerving, and differentiate the film from the average horror or thriller. The prosthetic effects for the surgery are striking, and add impressive authenticity to a lower-budget film.
Rotten Meat is not for everyone, but as an opinionated and provocative piece of art, it accomplishes its goal of making a strong statement about the beautification-consumerism complex.