Black Flies (Cannes 2023) Movie Review – Sean Penn-starrer ends up as a monotonous paramedics documentary

Black flies
Sean Penn-starrer ends up as a monotonous paramedics documentary

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s latest movie, Black Flies adds to the gritty and realist genre taking over the main competition of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. But despite the enigmatic Sean Penn who always enthrals viewers despite how limited his role may be and rising actor Tye Sheridan doing his best not to get overwhelmed with the bizarre accruements of his character, Black Flies struggles not only in its main international arena but is barely able to compete even with first-time filmmakers or other sidebar films at the festival.

Tye Sheridan is the rookie paramedic Cross who feels his emotions on his sleeve, making it difficult for him to cope with the horrors of his job. Feeling pity for a dog caught in the crossfire or trying to do what is right does not win him any points with his brash peers. In comes the hardened veteran, Rut, who has seen the world but does not let it get to him. He takes Cross under his wing, spouting words of wisdom in a brusque manner and bonding over Chinese food.

From the beginning, Black Flies makes it known that it is going to take a deep dive into the psyche of Cross, a sweet boy who will either break or come out of his experiences as a Rut 2.0. Shaky closeups with the blood of the victims spattering the scene run parallel to Cross’ thought process who is overwhelmed by it all.

The opening scene of his heavy breathing intermingling with that of a gunshot victim who draws his last breath while Rut tries to help both sets the tone of the film as Cross and Rut become an unlikely duo saving people or trying to. The haunting music adds to the sombre mode of the film. Meanwhile, Sean Penn who has fortified his legacy as a nuanced actor helps add a sense of urgency to the structure just like the work of the paramedics.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is to Black Flies. In an effort to constantly express Cross’ mind, the horrors of life and human nature through symbolism, the film fails technically. Black Flies tries to visually replicate it all with a hand-held camera, strobe lights of the ambulance, unintentional out-of-focus mistakes, loud screaming and closeups that just end up giving viewers a headache. The detailed gore and lengthy explanation of each scene feels like one is watching a documentary on paramedics.

As for the shot taking, quick editing and close-ups take out the context of each scene such as the blink-and-miss cameo of Mike Tyson who almost looks like an extra if it hadn’t been for his recognizable face. The sound mixing gets weird at points when trying to express Cross’ breaking point such as the Latino couple screaming and a dog barking.

Ambience noise like the loud train, (again some more) screaming and club music tries to emphasise his troubled state of mind but we get it, Cross is yet to come to terms with his job till Rut helps him. The film contains such incidents throughout as the duo try to save patients and their mental health for all 2 hours of its runtime. Sure, this establishes their characters but what’s the plot then and why should one continue watching it?

Read More: Black Flies Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 3/10

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