A stunningly beautiful, yet distressingly empty, homage to grindhouse action films.
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan is ostensibly a Western, but is perhaps better categorized as a stunningly beautiful, yet distressingly empty, homage to grindhouse action films. The film’s gut-punching violence and resplendent visuals can occasionally—even frequently—distract from its lack of coherence, but ultimately the final product is disappointing because of how good its unfulfilled component qualities are.
The plot involves a gang of rogues who, having freshly stolen a large quantity of gold, abscond to a beautiful but mostly abandoned seaside estate. There they find Luce (Elina Löwensohn), a strange, possibly crazy sex-bomb modeled in the fine European tradition of possibly crazy sex-bombs. Unfortunately for Let the Corpses Tan, and for us viewers, it is 2018, and being a crazy sex-bomb—without any accoutrements—does not a character make.
Inspired not only by grindhouse action films—it is also clearly evocative of Italian giallo thrillers—the film has an abundance of material to draw from, particularly when you consider that it is loosely based on the 1971 novel Corpses in the Sun by French writers Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid.
If it sounds as if all is lost, fear not, because Let the Corpses Tan contains more than enough to keep the eye glued to the screen. The imagery—knives emerging from unfastened crotches, quick cuts of breasts swinging in a hammock, a sudden and malevolent skull and a variety of exploding bodily fluids, among others—are absolutely mesmerizing. The film plays out like a gleeful, artful slideshow of beautifully realized sin, like Mad Max without the Max. Every visual element, from the color palette to the costumes to the make-up to the camerawork, is absolutely sensational. It has to be one of the most beautiful films made in recent years. The production design (by Alina Santos) and cinematography (by Manuel Dacosse, who recently did similarly provocative work with Double Lover) deserve specific mention.
And, despite its serious flaws, this visual excellence makes it necessary to recommend Let the Corpses Tan. For filmmakers to show such meticulous attention to realizing their artistic vision is not only admirable but vital in this era of films clogged with generic special effects. But it raises the question of why they wouldn’t pay the same attention—or even a fraction of it—to the narrative itself. It would be one thing if the film at least clicked along at a stimulating pace, but Let the Corpses Tan suffers from an abundance of painfully slow stretches. It is almost as if the filmmakers changed their minds and decided to make it a Western part-way through, and their strategy for doing so was to incorporate slow shots of eyeballs and landscapes into what should have been a straightforward thriller.
It’s a shame that Let the Corpses Tan is coming on the heels of Coralie Fargeat’s superior Revenge, which uses a similar color palate and all-around visual flair but attaches it to a sizzling (and coherent) plot. With her film, Fargeat shows that it is possible to aim for the stars with presentation and plot, while Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani fail to do the same here. Still, their work here, particularly with their violent, sexual and artful imagery, is more than worth a watch. Just don’t expect much beneath the surface.