The racy influencer satire that shocked Sundance with 29 penises and a Disney star

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Twenty nine. That’s the number of penises I counted in the 108 minute runtime Rot in the sun, the latest film from director Sebastián Silva, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. At least me think there were 29 of them. I may have lost count, considering that at various points there were so many dongs in one frame that it was practically a carol of the bells – or rather, balls.

This was to be expected. If you know anything about Silva’s work as a director, you know that he deals in dense, controversial, yet hilarious dark comedies. His films have drawn big stars like Ann Dowd, Kristen Wiig and Michael Cera into his orbit, resulting in some of their most outlandish work to date. When Rot in the sun was announced, the eager public knew they would expect something salacious.

“Raunchy” doesn’t quite begin to describe Rot in the sun, and it’s not a good catch either. Yes there is one lot of nudity. And yes, there are real sex acts that are completely spread out in front of the camera. But the parade of phalluses is an inseparable part of it Rot in the sun; the tip is part of the fun. How many times have critics been able to say that a collection of cocks has led to mystery and intrigue?

The film follows Silva, who plays a version of herself, low in life. Hovering just above rock bottom – uninspired, unmotivated and unexcited – he contemplates suicide in Mexico City. At his manager’s behest, he takes a weekend vacation at a gay beach, eventually rescuing real-life influencer and writer Jordan Firstman (who also plays a loose version of himself) from drowning. Second fan of Silva’s work and a narcissist first, Firstman begs Silva to work on a show he is hosting for networks, claiming that the cosmos brought them together.

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There’s just one problem: Silva can’t stand Firstman. He is giddy and grippy, far too self-absorbed to be taken seriously in Silva’s opposite, dejected state of mind. But Silva needs money to complete the renovations he’s doing on the building he owns, which he wants to convert into an Airbnb for white tourists pouring into Mexico City. Reluctantly, Silva agrees to work with Firstman. That is, until Firstman arrives and Silva goes missing, leaving his gardener, Veronica (Cataline Saavedra), in a frenzied state of terror.

What comes next is both shocking and ballistic (pun very intended). But the most surprising aspect of Rot in the sun isn’t how many hard cocks are banging together at any one time, but that it’s really awesome nonetheless. It’s a sexy, scorching satire of influencer culture and gay misanthropy, as well as a pseudo-murder mystery in one abrasive package (again, intended). This is the dirtiest fun you’ll have all year.

The further we delve into the psychopathic depths of influencer culture, the more ripe it becomes for criticism. Instagram is our new world order and its reach is beyond sinister; more dystopian than George Orwell’s 1984 or Madonna’s ‘American Life’ video – the culture’s two main autocratic reference points, bar none! To deny is to deny the self. But throwing a rock at the world’s largest funhouse mirror will only shatter our already fragile self-perception. What happens then?

Silva has to pick up the proverbial shards and he meets Firstman with the glass still in his hands. He faces two losing choices: cut his own integrity to pieces or continue to hack into his own tortured artist psyche. Firstman bombards Silva with artistic praise and proposals for sex from the moment they’re both on dry land, but it’s not the satisfaction Silva is looking for. Instead, Silva consistently chides and belittles Firstman’s status as an influencer – famous for his “impressions” of inanimate objects, which has given him a huge number of famous friends (it’s rumours that his star-studded birthday party is where Marina Diamandis got COVID).

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The only thing that can make Silva more despondent than subjecting herself to an influencer’s presence is having to use them for money laundering. That’s exactly what happens when HBO executives deny Silva’s television pilot pitches, only to lighten up when he reluctantly mentions Firstman’s name. “That’s the man who impresses the banana bread publicist?!” they ask excitedly. Firstman is naturally ecstatic at the chance to prove Silva wrong about him, and jumps at the opportunity to team up with both hands.

“The amount of time it takes to get your bearings is right when Rotting in the Sun takes a darkly hysterical turn.”

The film starts slowly, which may put off the already skeptical viewers. The excess nudity in the first 40 minutes isn’t necessarily aggressive, but coupled with the film’s unusual nature and instant self-assurance, it takes viewers nearly a third of the way to assimilate. Fortunately, the amount of time it takes to get your bearings is exactly when Rot in the sun takes a dark hysterical turn. When Firstman shows up at Silva’s building with a Telfar bag and a suitcase full of sex toys only to find the filmmaker missing, the central satire is allowed to explode in all directions with exciting results.

Firstman, whose greatest achievement on camera to date has been the Disney+ series Mrs. Marvel, turns an ecstatic cannonball into this riotous parody of his online persona. He sends himself off without too many winks, confident and not at all incredulous about the fact that some might find him insufferable. As the influencer playing an influencer, he – and the movie itself – may be the first to get the parody completely right. Once his listless Instagram stories of Silva’s disappearance become more heartfelt, he must confront his followers who find him unreachable, which feels like grim fiction that could be all too real.

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But the biggest surprise is Saavedra’s frantic Veronica, who is one failed Google Translate-tête-à-tête with Firstman away from a complete meltdown. Veronica is the only person who knows Silva’s true whereabouts, and keeping it a secret while trying not to lose her job in his absence may be at the expense of her sanity. Saavedra is great and provides the necessary basic factor for a movie that spends so much of its running time on dicks and drugs.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival tipped the filth scale firmly at a 10. There have been steamy, semi-erotic thrillers; dastardly body horrors complete with leather dog leashes; and psychosexual power tricks. Yet nothing has been as brutal as Rot in the sun. But his profusion of penises cleverly obscures something much funnier: a social satire that works without feeling silly making big sweeping statements about the state of the culture. We need only observe the hedonistic horrors, hoping that we will never meet the same fate.

The post The Racy Influencer Satire That Shocked Sundance With 29 Penises And A Disney Star appeared first on The Daily Beast.

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