“A fierce, uncompromising nightmare from Franco”
In 2015, Michel Franco dropped Chronic, directing an understated Tim Roth in an uncomfortably intimate film about healthcare and obsession. Stitched together with long, static shots that forced the viewer to confront whatever Franco had put on screen in its naked truth, it was a difficult film to watch and a harder one to recommend. So when, twenty minutes into his Mexican nightmare, New Order, Franco shuttles his audience from a social satire into an ultra-violent political dystopia and creates a similar sense of uneasy entrapment, it’s not too surprising – despite a uniquely green spin on blood-splattered omens and breathless pacing. What is surprising, is how in-effective it becomes even though it has the body and scream count of a war film.
It begins like Franco’s version of Parasite (2019), as the Mexican director critiques the obscene difference between the upper and lower class with a streak of pitch-black humour. With its high walls, private security and guarded entrance, this home of the rich is a fortress, designed to protect those inside from the poverty outside and to stop anybody without an invitation from getting in. It also works as a kind of a glossy metaphor for the rich hiding away in their private glass bubbles, ignorant and indifferent to the problems of the real world going up in flames outside. It is the wedding day of Marianne (Naian Gonzalez), who rushes from room to room, checking to see if everything is in order. Very quickly we realise it’s not. Green paint gushes out of the bathroom taps. The judge is nowhere to be seen, held up in traffic by hostile protests.
Eventually, at the party, Marianne stumbles upon an old friend and employee of her family, Rolando (Eligio Melendez). He’s come for help; his wife is sick and needs money for a heart operation. In a double-edged twist that sadly doesn’t have the impact required and isn’t interrogated, the urgent operation for Rolando’s wife has been sabotaged by the same protestors running havoc in the streets fighting for change. They assaulted the hospital at the beginning of the film, shown in a distressing quick-fire montage of bodies piled into the back of trucks. Marianne is the third person at the party that Rolando has asked for help. The previous two are Marianne’s mother and brother, and the response both times was a pitiful look and grimly charged question: “How long has it been since you worked for us?” The answer is seven years, far too long in their eyes to owe any amount of emotional debt towards a man of Rolando’s status.
A centre of morality in the film, Marianne abandons her wedding and drives home to get the money for Rolando. At least one person in this family feels indebted to helping the other side. While she’s gone, protesters breach the walls of the estate and Franco’s film shifts into a home-invasion endurance test in the vein of a Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier film. Shots are fired and screams quickly follow. It’s a jarring tonal shift, and from here on out any sense of caution has been thrown to the wind. The film spins out of control. The line between law and order vanishes. Marianne is abducted and imprisoned in a camp with other wealthy families, where they are tortured on camera so a ransom can be extracted. Relentlessly violent and bleak, it’s the point at which some viewers might walk out. And if it sounds like I’ve described two different films, that is no doubt Franco’s intention. Indifferent division can rapidly turn into something far scarier.
Where Chronic dealt in motionless horror with long takes and deliberately slow pacing, New Order moves at such a breakneck speed that you have no time to question where it’s going, let alone feel anything but the spontaneous aggression of the filmmaking on display.
This is a fierce, uncompromising nightmare from Franco, meant to scream like a vision of a future that’s already revealing itself in the present. Perhaps powerfully, which re-watches might support, it feels like science fiction rather than an aggressive commentary on Mexico’s on-going social and political disparity. It even has the tempo and atmosphere of a zombie thriller with its early warning signs and all-out unravelling into city-wide chaos. But that’s exactly the message: carry on pretending like nothing is happening and this where we’re ending up. New Order seems destined for cult status.
And yet with Franco’s searing images, sudden terror and slow-motion waving of the Mexican flag, this political horror film feels strangely numb as a statement. After the first several executions, the violence stops registering. The screams, and the faces they belong to, blend into the background. This could well be Franco’s intention too, but if that’s the case, it still doesn’t have the emotional impact needed to support its socio-political criticisms. The ultimate feeling is one of detachment rather than fear or rage. Marianne practically stops speaking after the opening act, so you’re left watching her go from one torment to the next, with so little characterisation to invest in other than simply not wanting to watch these people go through any more misery.
Director: Michel Franco
Producers: Michel Franco, Cristina L. Velasco, Eréndira Núñez Larios
Cast: Naian González Norvind, Diego Boneta, Mónica del Carmen
Release Date: 2020
Featured image courtesy of The Match Factory