Jordan Firstman and Sebastián Silva in "Rotting in the Sun" Source: MUBI

Review: 'Rotting in the Sun' A Gay Hitchcockian Thriller

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Writer-director Sebastián Silva co-writes and plays a version of himself in a pitch-black comedy that's so messed up it's genius. Part Coen Brothers, part low-rent gay indie, "Rotting in the Sun" follows Silva's character (also named Sebastián Silva) as he struggles with suicidal ideation and feelings of hopelessness. Spurred by his friend Mateo – in whose building he's living in Mexico – Silva takes a weekend trip to a gay seaside play land, a Little Beach-at-Makena type place called Zicatela. The sun is hot and so are the boys, but Silva can barely pry himself out of his morbid thoughts to do anything more than gawk at the naked flesh around him...until, that is, he nearly drowns while trying to save another swimmer.

The other swimmer turns out to be comedian and social media star Jordan Firstman (also a satirical version of a real person, and played by the real-life influencer Jordan Firstman). Recognizing Silva as the filmmaker whose movie he was watching just the night before, Firstman immediately buddies up to Silva, suggesting they work together on a project. After inviting Silva to a party, Firstman posts about Silva on his Instagram, which prompts an argument.

Still, the two can't stop talking to each other. Firstman uses Facetime to chat with Silva even after he's returned to his miserable flat in Mateo's building, and when Silva mentions having met Firstman during a call with HBO executives, they light up. Sensing that a project with Firstman might actually be beneficial, Silva invites the comedian to come visit. Then, of course, things go absolutely haywire, thanks in part to the fumblings of Mateo's incompetent maid, Vero (Catalina Saavedra). By the time Firstman shows up, Silva is missing; is he ghosting Firstman? Is he off on a drug-fueled tear? No one seems that worried, but Vero definitely knows more than she's telling, and her furtive behavior, together with the discovery of the missing man's phone and wallet, left abandoned in his flat, convince Firstman that either the police or Silva's brother Juan (Juan Andres Silva) need to get involved.

For a movie built on the tension between silly diversion and existential dread, "Rotting in the Sun" feels like an intellectually teasing thriller, somewhat in the vein of Hitchcock (who also knew the value of a good running gag or two). As various characters look back on their interactions with Silva and recall their words and actions in response to his funk, they suffer pangs of conscience. The ways in which they seek to insulate themselves – from guilt; from worry; from the fear that something terrible has happened; and from the fear of what the consequences might mean – provide fuel for the film's escalating tension, as well as its building sense of absurdity. A gay thriller like nothing you've seen (think of "Stranger by the Lake," only with a morbid sense of fun), "Rotting in the Sun" dips into the usual gay movie tropes (romance, sex, a sense of seeking connection) but places its bets on smarter, less obvious storytelling. The wager pays off. This is a memorable and rewarding film that refuses to go where you expect.

"Rotting in the Sun" opens in theaters Sept. 8.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Read These Next