Certain to be dismissed by many on all sides of the class warfare/income inequality discussion, “New Order” is a movie that doesn’t blindly take sides and doesn’t let anyone off the hook. The film plays like a “what if” story warning the audience of what could happen rather than championing a specific point-of-view. Mexican director Michel Franco dares to critique societal breakdowns as they’re actually occurring across our present-day world which likely won’t sit well will those who are deeply committed to certain movements or social statuses.
This nasty and confrontational coup d’etat horror film paints a bleak and hopeless picture of our future society if we don’t start facing certain realities. In Franco’s movie no one benefits and no one wins. There are no heroes riding in on white horses to save the day. Once everything begins to fall apart it only gets darker and harder to watch. Franco pulls no punches, subjecting his audience to all kinds of stomach-churning horror yet creating the kind of tension that’s hard to turn away from.
“New Order” is a portrait of human depravity and the many wickedly oppressive forms it takes. It ends in a much different place than where it begins. Franco (who also wrote screenplay) starts his story at a posh upper-class wedding party in a wealthy Mexico City neighborhood. For nearly twenty minutes Franco’s camera moves around the party, setting the scene visually rather than spelling it out. By simple observation we meet numerous party-goers stylishly dressed and fully immersed in their privilege. Guests greet and exchange pleasantries as the mostly indigenous workers park cars and prepare the food.
The bride Marianne (an exceptional Naian González Norvind) is the closest we come to a lead character. Like everyone else at the party she comes from a family of wealth and is blissfully in love with her architect fiance Alan (Darío Yazbek Bernal). And just like everyone else at the party she seems completely impervious to what’s happening outside of their high society walls. But we see what differentiates Marianne from her family when a former employee named Rolando (Eligio Meléndez) comes by in desperate need of money for his wife’s heart valve replacement surgery. Mariannne’s parents and older brother Daniel (Diego Boneta) give him a little cash and then coldly brush him off. A frustrated Marianne presses her folks and her fiance but all she gets in return is “It’s your wedding day. Enjoy yourself.”
Meanwhile only blocks away, the city is crumbling as protests over economic disparity are overtaken by angry mobs mostly driven by the influence of violent revolutionaries. I won’t spoil what happens, but the first of many shocking moments comes when armed members of the mob invade the wedding party. As looting and murder spreads, the revolutionaries begin taking prisoners from the wealthy districts and holding them for ransom. Meanwhile the military seizes their opportunity and uses the violent uprising to impose their own fascist order.
Needless to say the movie has numerous moving parts and mining Franco’s overall meaning can be difficult at first. “New Order” is an angry film but its ire isn’t aimed in any one single direction. Instead its goal is to viscerally explore the utter collapse of a society and the many elements that contribute to it. The film delves into the ugly side of human nature, exhibiting what happens when morality gives way to anger, rage, greed, or indifference. In Franco’s scenario no one is exonerated, whether it’s the impoverished lower-class who turn from protests to violence or the privileged wealthy who dismiss the plight of the poor with ease. We do get small glimmers of compassion from each side – Marianne from the 1%, Marta (Mónica Del Carmen) and her son Cristian (Fernando Cuautle) from the other. But you never get a sense that their kindness will be rewarded.
The sheer brutality of “New Order” is effective yet hard to watch. Torture, rape, mass executions – its all vividly portrayed. Even when Franco turns his camera rather than subject us to the savagery, the implications are still carved into our minds. And then there are instances where he simply goes too far, portraying horrifying cruelty that’s sure to have some of his audience checking out. Yet through it all there are clear signs of brilliant filmmaking, especially in Franco’s ability to develop and maintain an unsettling tension, often through the camera work of DP Yves Cape. I was glued to every frame despite being frustrated by some of the excesses.
I’m betting there are deeper meanings buried within “New Order” that Mexican audiences will pick up but that I missed. It’s that kind of movie – one that doesn’t allow for a single-minded reading and that’s open for a range of interpretations. If you can approach the film with an open mind (and a strong stomach), you’ll find a movie willing to confront the way many people think about things today. That doesn’t let it off the hook for occasionally crossing the line of taste. But it does result in a thought-provoking nail-biter that covers some of the same subjects as the Oscar-winning “Parasite” but from a much angrier and more cynical point-of-view. “New Order” is out now in select theaters.