This article appeared in the September 7, 2023 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writingSign up for the Letter here.

Rotting in the Sun (Sebastián Silva, 2023)

Rotting in the Sun, Chilean director Sebastián Silva’s misery-suffused new comedy, is ripe to the point of bursting. Sex, death, and abjection abound in the film, which makes room in its tortured vision for both earnest existential inquiry and literal shit-eating. Silva plays a skewed version of himself: a young, drug-addled wreck of a filmmaker oscillating between artistic frustration and serious thoughts of suicide.

While vacationing on a Mexican beach, where he contemplates killing himself while fending off a tidal wave of sexual advances, Silva saves another man from drowning. That man turns out to be social-media star Jordan Firstman—an ebullient on-screen force also playing an exaggerated version of himself. Firstman enlists the reluctant director to help him produce a TV show (“It’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, but positive…”). But as he’s on his way to Silva’s home, an accident (too funny to spoil) takes Silva out of commission.

At this point, the film suddenly changes tack, alternating between Firstman’s perspective and that of Silva’s housekeeper, Vero (the reliably deadpan Catalina Saavedra, star of Silva’s 2009 dramedy The Maid). As Firstman searches for his benefactor (while of course taking time to have group sex on his bed), Vero anxiously attempts to avoid being implicated in her boss’s disappearance. Meanwhile, the film provides a steady stream of penises, arch nihilism, and social-media grotesquery to punctuate the forking narratives.

The apotheosis of Rotting in the Sun’s visually and emotionally disorienting waltz of high and lowbrow impulses comes in the film’s final scene, which blends an homage to Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964) with the banal frustrations of a life lived via shitty apps. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Silva’s modus operandi: embedding an unsentimental interrogation of the possibilities (and impossibilities) of contemporary communication within a gleefully transgressive work of bad taste.

Chris Shields is a filmmaker and writer who lives in Los Angeles.