New Order (2020) ☆☆(2/4): A messy exercise of chaos and brutality

Sometimes, I come across hollow artsy flicks hopelessly stuck in their supposedly interesting but ultimately flimsy ideas, and Mexican film “New Order” is one of such depressing cases. Sure, I understand that it intends to be an edgy political allegory about class and several relevant social subjects, and it works to some degree during its first half hour thanks to its competent filmmaking. However, as only being turned into a barebone ideological mess with some very nasty and unpleasant aspects, it did not impress me much on the whole, and I came out of the screening room only with considerable annoyance and disappointment.

The early part of the movie, which is its highpoint in my humble opinion, looks promising as reminiscent of the devastating final act of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film “Parasite” (2019). At a big modern house belonging to some rich businessman in Mexico City, lots of affluent people gather together for the upcoming wedding ceremony of that businessman’s daughter, and the movie looks around a number of key figures including the bride and her family for a while as they and many other guests casually kill some time before the expected arrival of the judge for the wedding ceremony.

However, the judge is unexpectedly getting late due to big riots spread here and there in the city. Although the movie does not explain to us in details, it seems that those millions of poor people in the city finally become very, very, very angry about the growing social and economic inequality, and the city is accordingly thrown into sheer chaos and violence at present, but that does not worry those rich people at the wedding just because, so far, they have been safely insulated from whatever is happening outside in the city.

And there comes an old man who once worked for the rich businessman and his family. As already shown to us during the opening scene, this old man’s wife has been kicked out of a local hospital despite having been quite ill, and now he needs a considerable amount of cash right now for taking his sick wife to some private clinic where she can be admitted and then have a necessary surgery. Due to his understandably poor economic condition, he comes to ask for the emergency loan from his former employer, but, not so surprisingly, he only finds himself getting ignored again and again no matter how much he pleads to his former employer’s family members one by one. Sure, they all say they are sorry for him, but then they all casually disregard him as their minds are mostly occupied with the wedding ceremony, and that certainly makes a big and obvious point on how crass and selfish they are.

In the end, the situation is suddenly turned upside down when those rioters finally break into the house one by one. As many of wedding guests are accordingly thrown into a very grim situation, the movie delivers a series of strikingly brutal and cold-blooded moments of violence, but we observe them from the distance without much care. Yes, these rich guests may deserve to be punished, but those rioters in the film are presented as nothing but merely vicious thugs to repulse us more than once, and you may come to wonder what kind of political point the movie exactly wants to make in its supposedly neutral attitude.

Anyway, things get quite worse in the city once the military enters the picture and then goes all the way for seizing the control of the whole country. Now numerous citizens are suddenly taken away for no apparent reason, and one of them happens to be the bride of the wedding ceremony. Feeling guilty about how that old man was disregarded by her family, she decided to do the right thing for him on that day, but her following action only leads to a dire consequence for not only her but also several others in the story, and we subsequently get a number of barbaric moments of military brutality later in the film.

On the surface, these horrific scenes are effective enough to chill and disgust us, but they only feel sensational and gratuitous without any substantial narrative ground to support them due to the glaringly superficial screenplay by director/co-producer/co-editor Micheal Franco. While the bride and a few other main characters in the story are mildly sympathetic to us, they are not particularly developed well just like many other characters in the film, and that is why the finale feels rather empty and insipid despite another dose of horror and violence for us.

The cast members of the film look believable at least as they are thrown into one ordeal after another, but they are all inherently limited by their cardboard characters from the start, and I can only hope that Mónica Del Carmen, who plays the bride in the movie, and several other extra performers in those horrific scenes in the film were treated well on the set before being demanded to look really terrorized and degraded in front of the camera. They surely put 100% of themselves into these utterly unpleasant scenes, and it is a shame that their dedicated efforts do not help the movie itself much.

Overall, “New Order”, which somehow garnered the Grand Prize Jury when it was shown at the Venice International Film Festival in last year, surely has some barbed messages for our increasingly turbulent time, but it only comes to spin its wheels in the end while failing to make anything coherent enough for me to reflect on, except, probably, that the rich will always be on the top of us as usual no matter what happens in the world. After all, they are the ones with power and money, aren’t they?

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