H. P. Lovecraft adaptions are becoming more and more common these days, albeit with the same level of middling results. Suitable Flesh comes from writer Dennis Paoli and director Joe Lynch, and is based off the 1937 H. P. Lovecraft short story, The Thing on the Doorstep. It stars Heather Graham, Judah Lewis, Bruce Davison, Johnathon Schaech, and Barbara Crampton.
That’s a pretty good cast, so it’s no surprise that bad acting is not Suitable Flesh’s issue, except for some dodgy dialogue and awkward moments here and there. No, what is Suitable Flesh’s issue is that it runs out of steam early, and overplays its hand, to the point where it should have ended earlier than it does.
The film begins with Dr. Daniella Upton (Crampton) visiting her friend Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Graham), who has been detained in a psychiatric hospital. She is responsible for the mashed-up corpse in the morgue, and Dr. Upton wants to know why. She also wants to understand why Elizabeth is begging her to destroy the brain of the corpse. Unable to get through to her friend about the importance of this task, Elizabeth starts to recount the story that led to these events.
A tired trope that does most films no favours. It’s hard to be invested in what follows, when we’re seeing some of the results already.
Dr. Elizabeth Derby is a psychiatrist, married to a man named Eddie (Schaech) and with very few troubles. That is until one day, a young man named Asa (Davison) comes knocking on her door. He is troubled, and believes she can help him. However, his issues confuse Elizabeth which results in the first of many poor decisions, going to Asa’s house and meeting his dying father. A rude and dangerous man, who cares little for his son, aside from a cryptic word about Asa being his salvation.
Elizabeth walks away even more concerned for Asa’s well-being, but the boy comes back to her office, and she first-hand sees his body seemingly taken over by someone else. The Asa that greets her afterwards is not the same scared boy, and the change in character both terrifies and excites Elizabeth.
Even after he leaves, she can’t get him out of her head, but more than that, she feels she needs to understand what he is going through.
Unfortunately, for her and those around her, it seems as though an entity is jumping from body to body, and Asa is its current target. With Elizabeth interfering, she has its attention, and it quite likes the idea of being a woman this time around.
As far as loose adaptions of a H. P. Lovecraft story go, Suitable Flesh is a solid and imaginative film. With a touch of the 80s campy horror about it, unafraid to push the boundaries regarding sex and gore, and with a couple of fun twists and turns. There’s some clear talent here from a number of different sources. Obviously, the acting is good, as already stated, but there are also some great moments of film technique that give the overall experience a dreamy, haunted feel.
It is always quite a task to modernise a Lovecraftian tale, and that is done well here. However, as the movie goes on, there is a sense of holding back and several times, certain outcomes the viewer can envision could have resulted in something more fun. Alongside this, there’s a notable drop in the pacing, and the film does start to slow down once the reveal has happened. As it reaches its finale, it sets up an ending that would be more than satisfying, but for some reason, goes on an extra 10 minutes. It’s an exceptionally frustrating decision, as most will have had their fill by this stage.
None of this is bad enough to ruin the overall experience, but it’s hard to call this a great movie. There’s just too many issues for that, even if what it does well, is more than worthy of praise.
Suitable Flesh (2023)
The Final Score - 6/10