Brazilian film

The Nightshifter

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Stênio works the night shift at a morgue in Brazil. While his life seems fairly mundane, there is one thing that makes Stênio unique; he can speak to the dead. Each night he communicates with the dead who end up on his slab. When Stênio messes with forces more powerful than he understands, he unwittingly unleashes his own hell on Earth.

This frightening Brazilian film is an adaptation of the novel by Marco de Castro. Cláudia Jouvin (Alone Man) co-wrote the adaptation with director Dennison Ramalho (ABC’s of Death 2). What makes The Nightshifter so fascinating is the unique mythology it creates. The film quickly established Stênio’s ability to speak with the dead and that he has always had this ability. Yet he keeps it a secret and it is not revealed why he has this strange gift. For the most part all the dead can do is talk. That is, until Stênio breaks the rules of the dead and unleashes an evil that is dedicated to ruining his life. Unfortunately, this is also where the mythology gets a little foggy. The rules are not well established and result in a bit of confusion as to what the dead are capable of doing.

One thing the filmmakers of The Nightshifter are very skilled at is the building of tension. Even when the dead are not a threat, there is something absolutely disturbing about them. As things get more intense, the suspense becomes palpable. Some of the most tense scenes involve an evil entity attempting to make Stênio appear as though he’s insane. Many of the scares are also quite effective. I watched the film on a computer during the day and certain scenes still managed to make my hair stand on end. I can only imagine how terrifying the film would be on a bigger screen in the dark. While for the most part the film has great intensity, the pacing is a bit off in certain areas. It leads to strange lulls interspersed throughout the tension and makes the film seem like it goes on longer than it truly does.

The performances in The Night Shifter are all fantastic, even if some of the characters aren’t that well written. Daniel de Oliveira (Liquid Truth, Boca) is a delight to watch as Stênio. He may not be perfect, but Stênio is dedicated to his work and clearly loves his children. When his children are in danger, he does his best to protect them. Oliveira commands attention every time he’s on screen. While the female leads are written as unfortunate stereotypes, the performances are fantastic. Fabiula Nascimento (492, A Wolf at the Door) plays Stênio’s wife, Odete. She is the stereotype of the bitchy, unfaithful wife who seems to hate her husband. Bianca Comparato (3%, In Treatment) plays the virginal, sweet, and helpful Lara. Both Nascimento and Comparato play their characters well despite the archetypes they represent. I can only imagine these are how the women were written in the book, but I wish the filmmakers had made these women a bit more complex.

There are some really great effects used in the film. The Nightshifter utilizes a combination of CGI and practical effects in order to achieve gorgeous imagery and spine-chilling frights. For the most part, the bodies in the morgue are made to look gruesome through practical effects. It is nearly impossible to tell these are not real bodies, even during the autopsy scenes. The CGI comes in when the dead talk to Stênio. There appears to be CGI layered over the face of the cadavers to create a truly eery and disturbing appearance. The filmmakers also smartly utilize lighting in their favor, illuminating scenes in a way that draws focus to a specific area while also making the film beautiful to look at.

The Nightshifter is a spine-chilling tale that shows one should never meddle with the dead. While I’m not familiar with the source material, Ramalho and Jouvin clearly delivered an effective adaptation. It brings plenty of tension and scares, along with fantastic performances. There are some areas where the pacing falters a bit and the female characters leave something to be desired. Despite that, the film is still an achievement in Brazilian filmmaking. Horror fans, be sure to thank Shudder for bringing such a beautiful film to the states.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Cannibal Club

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A wealthy Brazilian couple live in the lap of luxury. While on the outside they appear to live a typical rich lifestyle, behind closed doors they get up to some eccentric activities. One of those activities is killing and eating young men. The husband is even part of a cannibal club that is exclusive to rich men. When the wife catches the leader of the club in a compromising position, the couple find themselves in a dangerous position that could cost them their lives.

Brazilian writer/director Guto Parente (The Mysterious Death of Pérola) takes his audience on a strange journey with The Cannibal Club. The plot overall follows a specific pattern. We see the two leads, Otavio and Gilda, as they go through a bizarre mating ritual that also involves them killing their next human meal. Then there is a small amount of intrigue as the audience learns about the cannibal club and the various wealthy and powerful men who are apart of it, including Otavio. This allows the audience to meet the leader of the group, and the one who Gilda catches in a compromising position. There is a bit of excitement as Gilda and Otavio try to find a way out of their precarious position without losing their lives, and in the process they recruit a new employee to help them. Then the film reverts back to Gilda and Otavio’s typical mating dance, but with slightly different results.

The Cannibal Club almost comes across as a combination of Eyes Wide Shut and Hostel, but it lacks the true intrigue and thrills of those films. There is a lot of opportunity to build in various twists to add to the suspense, but unfortunately the film feels rather monotone. There are a couple minor moments that might elicit a gasp, but they are mostly there simply for shock value and don’t add anything to the plot. There is also not a lot of focus on the cannibal club itself, despite the title of the film, and instead the focus is on Gilda and Otavio’s strange relationship. This is fine, except it leads to a rather lackluster subplot about the club and a bit of a missed opportunity for more tension and thrills. It also leads to a plot that at times is quite predictable.

One of the stronger parts of this film are the performances. A highlight for me was Ana Luiza Rios (The Last Breath) as Gilda. She is equal parts charming and sinister. It is amazing to watch her be confident and seductive only to then eat a human being with a smile, and Rios portrays her very well. Her husband, Otavio, is played by Tavinho Teixeira (Batguano). Otavio is as cold-hearted as they come, yet he has a soft spot for Gilda. Teixeira does a great job of portraying the two sides of Otavio and his on-screen chemistry with Rios. These two breathe some life into the film that is often times on the dull side.

Another aspect of The Cannibal Club that adds some interest is the visuals. The cinematography alone is very beautiful and enhances the idea of Gilda and Otavio’s opulent, wealthy lifestyle. Especially with how the various locations are filmed, everything looks incredibly expensive, shiny, and unattainable. While they are used at a minimum, the practical effects are also very well done. In one specific scene at the beginning of the film the audience is shown a victim getting butchered and chopped into prime cuts of meat. Not only are the practical effects in this scene frighteningly realistic, they also stand out in the lavish home the scene is set in.

The Cannibal Club has some successful elements, the lack of tension in the plot results in a rather forgettable film. Many parts of the film will feel reminiscent to similar films that came before it, all of them focusing on wealthy clubs who prey on the less fortunate, yet this film doesn’t carry the suspense or excitement of its predecessors. The performances by the two leads are enough to hold my interest and the stunning sets, cinematography, and effects give the audience something to catch the eye. Despite these more successful features, the film will likely be forgotten by the time people pick their “best of 2019” films.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10